Girl’s Slaying Ends Dream of Ideal Suburb

Times Staff Writer

It was to this prosperous suburb of orderly middle-class residents that Taek Ki Kang brought his family five years ago, seeking the ideal place to raise his two children. And it was here that his daughter died Saturday night, the random victim of unexpected violence on a quiet street named Indian Creek.

When his daughter did not return home on time from a friend’s birthday party that night, Kang went looking for her. He found the friend’s house cordoned off by police. He was told a teen-age girl had been shot.

“I said, ‘Die?’ ” recalled Kang, a 43-year-old South Korean immigrant who works six days a week in his Long Beach appliance business. The police said, “No, it’s OK.”


Back in his stucco house on Carla Place, he waited up with his wife for the daughter, Tina, a pretty 15-year-old who usually got home when she was supposed to.

She had spent Saturday doing chores, even cooking dinner, to charm her mother into letting her go to the party a few miles away. In the early hours of Sunday morning, the Kangs learned their eldest child had been killed.

The police called. “He say ‘Sorry,’ your daughter dead,” remembered Kang.

Tina had been caught in gunfire spewed from a passing car as she was leaving the party at 11:35 p.m.; it was 35 minutes past her curfew.

Police Monday arrested a 16-year-old from Baldwin Park in connection with the murder. Investigators from the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department said he is one of two suspects who had been turned away from Diane Gaor’s birthday party earlier Saturday evening. Authorities are not saying if they believe the shooting was gang related, or if the pair knew anyone at the party.

The youth, whose name is being withheld by authorities, is to be arraigned by Friday. Prosecutors say they will decide within the next few weeks whether to request that he be tried as an adult. Police are looking for the second suspect.

The killer fired three shots, striking Tina once in the back with a 9-millimeter bullet. No one else was injured, though she had been standing with about a dozen others. She died at the scene.


‘Can’t Outlaw Parties’

“It makes you sick to your stomach,” said City Councilman Donald Knabe, sheriff’s department liaison for the council. “It’s real shocking. . . . I don’t know what we can do or not do. We can’t outlaw parties in the city.”

Lt. Reg Lawson, head of the detectives’ bureau in the Lakewood sheriff’s station, says no one in his office can recall another drive-by shooting in Cerritos. “It’s a bedroom community. It’s a nice place to live. It doesn’t present as many crime problems to us as some of our other cities,” he said.

Tina was the second person murdered in Cerritos this year. Since 1980, there have been no more than four killings a year in this community of 56,000, usually fewer.

Sitting in the living room of the Kang’s home this week, Tina’s aunt, Unju Liskey of Anaheim, said that her brother and his wife, Myong Suk, chose to live in Cerritos primarily because they thought it would be a good environment for Tina and her younger brother. “Their main concern was always for their two children. But somehow it seems no matter where you go. . . .”

The Kangs were a closely knit family that adhered to rather old fashioned ideas of child rearing, according to relatives and neighbors. They had immigrated from Seoul a decade ago and lived in Cypress and Long Beach before moving to Cerritos, a carefully groomed community with a bountiful municipal treasury that funds a rich array of city services.

Tina and her 14-year-old brother, Chi-Ho, had just started classes at Valley Christian High School in Cerritos, a private religious school that only admits Protestant church-goers. A cross and a portrait of Christ hang on one wall of the Kang’s plushly carpeted, immaculate living room.


Tina “was really a nice girl. She listened to her parents,” said James Kang, an uncle who had flown in from Michigan for the funeral Wednesday. The 10th grader often helped out in the family’s air conditioning and refrigeration business, taking phone calls and writing letters for her father, whose command of English is limited.

Rather than having Tina go to friends’ houses, her parents preferred that the friends visit Tina. She didn’t attend many parties, and was allowed to go to the Gaor party only after the Kangs decided the celebration would be properly chaperoned.

Spotless Record

At Cerritos High School, where Tina attended the ninth grade, administrators say she had mixed grades, but a spotless behavior record. “She never received a demerit,” said the principal, Stan Steddom.

Neighbor Cathee Verma, the older sister of one of Tina’s best friends, described Tina as reasonably outgoing, sweet and humble. “She was really wise for her age. She was always the conscience for her friends,” said Verma, whose sister, Marianne, had gone to the birthday party with Tina. “She was like a typical teen-ager, but like, with 10 times more sensitivity than one.”

She recalled Tina dissolving into tears on reading a comic book written from the perspective of the Hiroshima atomic bomb victims.

Drive-by shootings are often associated with gang disputes, but law enforcement officials say Cerritos has much less gang activity than many nearby communities. The city is known to have only one gang, a Filipino group called the Satanas, which has not been involved in any serious violence recently, according to sheriff’s officers.


The Gaors live in a typical Cerritos development of neatly tended homes on small lots. “This is really a quiet neighborhood,” remarked one of their neighbors, Frances Escalera.

Cars slowed when they drove by the Gaor house earlier this week. A group of young schoolboys trooped up the driveway, pausing as a friend described the path of the bullets.

“We never dreamed of that kind of stuff,” said Liskey, referring to the sudden violence that took her niece’s life. “There must be something the United States can do to stop violence like this.”

She and James Kang said such an aimless killing would never have occurred in Korea. “There’s no way it would have happened in Seoul. . . . Impossible,” declared James Kang.