‘Like walking into a cemetery’; mass shooting scars family’s home with echoes of terror

Chan Hou and his family are packing their lives into boxes as quickly as possible, trying to escape the pain that now permeates their home.

For 12 years, they lived in the house tucked behind a Rose Park nail salon. Last week, it became the scene of a mass shooting. Now, reminders of the violence are everywhere.

“It’s like walking into a cemetery,” says Hou’s son Daniel. “This used to feel like the happiest place. Now all you have to do is look left, look right. No one should have to go through this.”

Chan Hou recounts the events of a shooting in his backyard. Photo by Steven Smith.

Daniel, 27, was throwing a Halloween-themed birthday party for his co-worker at the house on Seventh Street. According to witnesses, at least one shooter in a mask jumped on top of a brick wall in the backyard and opened fire, killing three men and wounding nine others. Police still have not made any arrests in the case.

Hou points to the floor of the front room, where puddles of blood had covered the white tile days before. On Saturday, extra-large Home Depot boxes filled with belongings were scattered across the room. He says he’s not staying long—the family comes for a few hours at a time to pack. It’s about as much as Hou can handle as he continues his job as a caretaker for elderly patients.

“I cry when I see the floor,” Hou says.

He points to the bullet holes that peppered the home and the backyard: a shed, the back of the home, a ramp leading into the back door, the window to his 17-year-old daughter’s room, the wall, ceiling and door of her room. His daughter was lucky that night, he says—she usually sits on the right side of her bed while doing her homework, but she happened to be sitting to the left, out of the line of fire.

Bullet holes going through to a bedroom area pictured from the back porch. Photo by Steven Smith.

He and his family have no idea why anyone would attack their home. All the guests were like family, Daniel says, and most of his friends even called Hou “Dad.” Police say there is no evidence the shooting was gang-related and Daniel says his friends—all of different nationalities and races—were not involved in gangs.

Hou, from Cambodia, is a survivor of the Khmer Rouge.

“I’m surviving again a second time,” Hou says with tears in his eyes.

***

Daniel had asked his dad if he could throw a Halloween-themed birthday party for his co-worker at the house the night of Oct. 29. They had the party early because the co-workers all had to work on Halloween. According to his son, Hou’s superstitions made him apprehensive about putting up Halloween decorations depicting death, but he said yes.

Hou now sees the decorations as a bad omen. Cupcakes adorned with tombstones had been on a table with other food.

“There were 12 gravestones and 12 people hurt,” Daniel says, explaining his father’s view.

Now all the decorations sit bundled in a plastic tablecloth that had been designed to look like it was splattered with blood.

Nichole Vasquez stands over a memorial for her cousin, Maurice Poe Jr. According to Vasquez, who was shot in the leg, Poe had put his arms around her, putting himself between her and the shooter. Photo by Steven Smith.

The party started like any other gathering the family had at home. This time they had about 30 guests, which was a little more than usual. Hou arrived a little late. He had to attend a funeral wake for a family member before returning home. Fifteen minutes after he arrived, he was talking to his son when shooting broke out.

In the chaos, partygoers either ran through the back door into Hou’s room or down the side of the house to the front yard. Three men, 25-year-old Maurice Poe Jr., 35-year-old Melvin Williams II and 28-year-old Ricardo Torres, were fatally shot almost immediately, according to the family.

Memorials now mark where the men fell in the backyard: multi-colored flowers, incense, candles, candy, chips and drinks. One sits near the back fence. The other two are closer to the home—so near to each other that they’ve merged into a single monument.

Hou tends to each memorial, lighting more incense. He wants to invite a monk to pray over the memorials to help the men be at rest.

Friends and family members stand around a memorial where Maurice Poe Jr. was shot and killed. Photo by Steven Smith.

“In Asian culture, when you give to the dead, you’re trying to let their soul rest at peace,” Daniel says. The food is set out as if the victims are still there, eating and drinking with mourners.

The multi-colored flowers at each memorial represent individual victims and the victims—all from different backgrounds—united as one group in the tragedy, Daniel says.

“Gay, lesbians, white, black, Asians Mexicans, Puerto Ricans—anybody, you were always welcome here,” Daniel says of his home. “We never judged you off your race, sexuality, nothing. Anybody was able to express themselves here.”

***

On Saturday, Maurice Poe Sr. came to the home to see the last place his son was alive. He felt helpless.

“I’m actually experiencing powerlessness.” Poe said. “Why did this happen? I don’t know.”

His niece, Nichole Vasquez, used crutches to maneuver toward the memorial closest to the fence.

Maurice Poe Sr. visits the memorial of his son at the house where a shooting occurred during a Halloween-themed birthday party. Sithy Yi, who describes herself as “like a grandma” to the family who lived there, overlooks the yard where the victims were killed. Photo by Steven Smith.

On the night of the shooting, she had been facing the fence and talking to her cousin when the gunman opened fire. She said Maurice Jr. used his body to shield her from the bullets—putting his arms out to cover her. As she ran toward the house, jumping over the bodies of two other men, a bullet hit her in the leg, she said.

“He did spare my life,” she said tearfully.

Maurice Jr. was an “amazing person all around,” and a great father to his 3-year-old daughter, Vasquez said. “He was not afraid of death.”

***

In the Hou family’s living room and bedrooms, pictures that once hung on the walls now sit on the floor, ready to be packed. Saturday morning, Hou places a pillow into a box, prepping it to go into storage until the family finds a new place to call home.

Daniel says he and his family haven’t had time to look for a new house, but they feel they need to pack up and get out. They’ve been staying with family and friends for the time being.

Daniel says the family hasn’t created a fundraiser to cover moving expenses because he wants the help to go to the families of the three men killed. He’s still trying to connect with the other victims of that night.

“My family was affected of course, but those people who lost theirs, lost more,” Daniel says. “Those lives—you can’t replace those. These objects around us? Yeah, you can replace it. Those lives? No. You can’t.”

A member of the Cambodian community, Linda Reach, later started a fundraiser to help the family with relocation costs.

Nichole Vasquez is embraced by a resident next a memorial marking where her cousin, Maurice Poe Jr., was killed. Photo by Steven Smith.

Editor’s note: This story has been updated with information on a fundraiser to help the family’s relocation costs.

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Valerie Osier is a breaking news and crime reporter for the Long Beach Post. She’s a Riverside native who found her love for journalism while at community college. She graduated from Cal State University, Long Beach journalism program in 2017 and covered the Palos Verdes Peninsula for the Daily Breeze prior to coming to the Post. She lives in Long Beach with her husband, Steven, and her cat/child, Jones.
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