2 arrested for shooting at Hmong festival

2013-10-14 10:04


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Tulsa - Two men were in custody on Monday suspected in the shooting of five people at a traditional Hmong New Year's festival that rattled the peaceful, tight-knit immigrant community in east Tulsa.

Some feared that the rampage could deter other Hmong from attending upcoming cultural celebrations, including one set for later this month.

"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."

Hmong are an Asian ethnic group hailing from countries including Laos, China, Vietnam and Thailand. The Hmong population in Tulsa is between 3 000 and 4 000. Many Hmong have travelled to Tulsa from across the country during recent years seeking jobs.

Two men have been taken into custody and face multiple charges in the wounding of five people at Saturday's festival, authorities said on Sunday. Authorities were holding 21-year-old Boonmlee Lee and 19-year-old Meng Lee, 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.

Police spokesperson Captain Steve Odom said a gun was recovered but that it will have to be tested to see if 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 at about 20:00. 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 handgun believed to have been used in the attack out of the vehicle, police said.

The scene

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.

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

"Then I realised we didn't have any balloons over there, and then everyone started standing up and taking cover," she said in an interview on Sunday with The Associated Press. "Some people were crying already, and that scared us."

Spokesperson for the two Tulsa hospitals where the victims were transported said they could not release information on the condition of the wounded on Sunday, citing the ongoing police investigation.

Xiathao Moua, the president of the Hmong American Association of Oklahoma, said he visited the two hospitals on Sunday morning and said even though the victims sustained injuries from the shooting, they are expected to live. He would not elaborate further on the nature of the injuries to the victims, citing privacy concerns.

Moua described hearing the shots ring out on Saturday night as some party guests were toasting with champagne and waiting in line to get dinner. What happened next, he said, was chaos and confusion.

"The MC at the ceremony, he was on the stand and he told everybody to lay down under the table and the floor," he said.

Moua also said he asked the victims at both Tulsa hospitals if they knew why they were targeted by the violence or if they could describe the shooters, but they could not, he told the AP on Sunday.

The names of the victims, who police say are all hospitalised, weren't released.

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