Vigil held for Santa Ana nightclub beating victim

Dung Pham's eyes welled with tears Sunday as he described the last time he saw his 23-year-old daughter, Kim, who died last week after she was severely beaten outside a Santa Ana nightclub.

"I called her home last Wednesday," two days before the attack, Pham said, "so I could help change the oil in her car. When you have children, no matter how old, you always want to make sure all is well, even the little things."

Kim Pham had just gotten a job at Nordstrom and wanted to celebrate. Her father said he hoped to hear all about her new job, but when two police officers, wearing suits, knocked on his door after dawn on Jan. 18, he braced himself instead.

"I knew it involved a family member," he said. "Who would come to your house at a time like that?"

Police said Kim Pham was attacked in the predawn hours of Jan. 18 as she stood in line outside The Crosby club. She was still unconscious when officers arrived. On Tuesday, she died after being taken off life support.

Police have arrested two suspects in Pham's death and are looking for another person of interest. One of Pham's friends said the confrontation may have started when Pham unintentionally stepped into another group's photo.

"I can't imagine it starts with someone interrupting a photo," her father said in an interview Sunday. "I don't know what to think."

Dung Pham said he immigrated to the U.S. from Vietnam in November 1991. His daughter was just 1 then, but soon, at age 5, she would experience heartbreak with the loss of her mother to breast cancer.

Because of that experience, "she always looked for the people in society who are forgotten or abandoned. She would try to uplift them," he said. "She wrote to prisoners to offer them hope and a reason to live. I don't know how she knew them."

Kim Pham graduated from Chapman University with a degree in psychology. A year ago this month, she married. Her husband studies business at UCLA, living in Los Angeles and returning home on weekends.

Last week, Vanesa Tapia Zavala, a 25-year-old mother and Santa Ana resident, pleaded not guilty to murder in connection with Pham's death. She is being held on $1-million bail. Police have declined to release the names of the second suspect or of the other person being sought.

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anh.do@latimes.com