MuskogeePhoenix.com, Muskogee, OK

October 13, 2013

Tulsa's Hmong fearful after gunfire at celebration


Associated Press

— TULSA (AP) — Gunfire that left five people injured at a traditional Hmong New Year’s festival rattled a peaceful, tight-knit east Tulsa community, where some feared Sunday the rampage could deter others from attending upcoming cultural celebrations.

“It’s really sad because a lot of people do not feel safe to go to the other New Year’s celebrations. I know there are people who don’t want to attend that anymore,” said Joua Xiong, who attended Saturday’s celebration along with hundreds of other Hmong people and heard the gunfire break out. “It’s very sad because this is the only time we really get to embrace our culture and unite as one.

“And I know a lot of other people will not come (to the Oct. 26-27 event) because of that,” she said.

Hmong are an Asian ethnic group mainly from Laos and number between 3,000 and 4,000 in Tulsa.  Many have traveled to Tulsa from across the country during recent years seeking jobs.

Two men have been taken into custody and face multiple charges in the shooting of five people at Saturday’s festival, authorities said Sunday. Authorities are holding Boonmlee Lee, 21, and Meng Lee, 19, both of Tulsa. Each faces five counts of shooting with intent to kill plus firearms charges.

It was not clear from jail records whether each had an attorney. An arraignment is pending.

Tulsa police Capt. Steve Odom said a gun was recovered but that it will have to be tested to see whether it is linked to the Saturday night shooting. Odom said the alleged shooters and the victims were all Hmong and that there was “probably a relationship” between the men charged and the victims.

The suspects were arrested shortly after the attack, which happened about 8 p.m. A police helicopter that was in the area spotted a car driving away from the scene with its headlights off and notified officers on the ground, who pulled it over.

The suspects had thrown clothes and a semi-automatic pistol believed to have been used in the attack out of the vehicle, police said.

A witness at the party described the chaotic scene, as people lined up to get dinner were sent running and ducking for cover when the shots rang out. There were at least 200 people at the celebration, which festival-goers likened to a Thanksgiving celebration in America.

Xiong, who was walking with her family to get dinner Saturday night at the festival, heard a loud ‘pop’ sound, but didn’t think anything of it at first, believing it was a balloon.

“Then I realized we didn’t have any balloons over there, and then everyone started standing up and taking cover,” she recalled in an interview Sunday with The Associated Press. “Some people were crying already, and that scared us.”

Xiong said Sunday she did not know the two alleged gunmen and questioned why they showed up at the party.