Suspected gunman identified in fatal shooting near Temecula
Everyone at the quiet Korean religious retreat knew John Chong as the intensely private handyman and welder who worked virtually nonstop and seemed cordial, if at times distant.
They didn’t know the other John Chong, the one who authorities say loaded his .32-caliber revolver Tuesday night, left his home and began a rampage that shattered the life of this quiet Catholic community near Temecula and set off reverberations throughout the Korean community in this country and abroad.
According to Riverside County sheriff’s deputies, sometime after 7 p.m. Tuesday, Chong, 69, walked 300 yards from his small house to a tidy bungalow belonging to Chuneui and Jong Pil Yun, both 58. Once there he shot Chuneui in the head, killing her instantly.
His next bullet hit Jong Pil in the chest, leaving him gravely wounded. A pool of blood remained in the house Wednesday. Orange slices and a bowl of rice sat on the counter, uneaten.
Chong then walked to the white and yellow cottage owned by Joseph and Juliana Kim with plans to shoot them as well, authorities said. But the Kims fought back ferociously with fists, furniture and weights.
The battle started on the porch and carried on into the living room. The front door of the cottage was ripped from its hinges. On Wednesday, bloodstains could be seen on the porch, the rug and the tablecloth. Pieces of furniture were flipped over. Pennies and quarters were flung about the room.
“From all accounts it was hand-to-hand fighting,” said sheriff’s Sgt. Michael Lujan. “The suspect had significant blunt-force trauma to the face and remains unconscious.”
A neighbor, Paula Schultze, heard the shots and commotion.
“Joseph’s wife ran to my trailer saying ‘Help me! Help me!’ ” she said, standing just a few yards from the Kims’ home. “She had the gun and I took it and put it in the bushes. Joseph looked beat up.”
Schultze found a bloody green dumbbell she said the couple used to pummel Chong.
“It was really horrible, I told them to keep John breathing until the ambulance got here,” she said. “At this point I didn’t know who shot who.”
Authorities said two shots were fired during the brawl and the Kims suffered facial injuries from which they are expected to recover. Jong Pil Yun is also expected to survive his gunshot wounds, Lujan said.
Investigators have not established a motive for the shooting. Those who knew Chong said he was a skilled maintenance man who built brick walls, dug holes and welded.
“I spoke with him yesterday,” said Chuck Owens, 69, who lives just above the camp. “He’s a very good man and a hard worker. I think he had personality conflicts with the victims. He was unhappy because he felt no one was chipping in and pulling their weight. I think every person has his breaking point. I cried when I heard it was him.”
The Kkottongnae Retreat Camp is run by the Congregation of the Sisters of Jesus. Kkottongnae, which means “flower village” in Korean, is a Christian social service organization founded in Korea that works with orphans and the homeless. Between 50 and 100 people live at the site near Temecula, officials said. The organization has other retreats in Lynwood, New Jersey and Georgia.
Sister Thaddeus Suh, community supervisor for the Sisters of Jesus, said the camp would be closed for the next month until they “come to terms with Tuesday’s events.”
Bishop Gerald Barnes of the Diocese of San Bernardino said, “In these troubling times when we are seeing so many acts of senseless violence, we must hold God’s peace and grace in our hearts and ask for His strength to bear these tragedies.”
The shootings hit the Korean community hard.
In the town of Eumseong-gun in South Korea’s Chungbuk province, Kkottongnae retreat officials were baffled by the violence.
“We are unable to contact the retreat in the United States right now because the area is restricted,” said Mateo Park, a public relations representative.
On Wednesday, Korean families, nuns and priests came to the crime scene seeking information about the victims.
“The people here take in the homeless. In Korea, they will pick them up off the streets and give them their dignity,” said Young Balser, who came to offer help translating for the nuns who live at the retreat. “They sacrifice their lives for these people.”
The nuns were eventually taken to a nearby Catholic Church.
Victor Nam, 59, came from Diamond Bar to see if he could get to the Yun home. He said the couple came to the U.S. in 1987 and were his best friends.
“They are very nice people, very good people and are very faithful and devoted to God,” he said. “This whole thing is really shaking up the Korean community.”
According to Nam, the Yuns moved from Torrance to the retreat five years ago. Jong Pil, who also goes by his baptized name Benedicto, often served as a translator for the Koreans who couldn’t speak English. His wife, said one resident, served as the retreat’s cook. She went by the first name Scholastica. They have an adult daughter, friends said.
Joseph Kim is a retired airline pilot, according to those who know him. Pictures of him inside airplanes hang in his living room. His age is unknown.
The retreat lies at the end of a winding road nestled in emerald green hills studded with crosses and statues of Mary and Jesus. The complex is composed of bungalows, row houses and dormitory rooms with names like Love, Hope, Joy and Peace.
After investigators left Wednesday, it seemed largely abandoned except for a handful of residents and visitors.
“Our priest told us to come and check out what happened,” said Jacob Choe, 56, a friend of the Yuns from Torrance. “It’s unbelievable.”
Choe was standing outside the couple’s home. Its sliding glass door was ajar and blood stained the floor. Colorful flowers sat in dozens of pots on the doorstep.
“They are such a wonderful couple,” Choe said. “I am just so shocked and so sad.”
Times staff writers Ruben Vives, Rich Connell, Victoria Kim and John Glionna contributed to this report.
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