At site of mass shooting during Halloween party, a Buddhist ceremony cleanses and heals
Chanchenda Hou sat quietly in the backyard of his Long Beach home, staring at the bouquet of flowers and candles that marked the areas where three men had been shot dead.
“That night keeps replaying in my head,” Hou said. “I can’t stop thinking about it.”
On Oct. 29, someone climbed the wall in the rear of his home from an alleyway and opened fire on nearly 30 people who were attending a Halloween-themed birthday bash that Hou’s son was hosting.
A dozen people were shot; three were killed and nine were injured. It was a bloody and chaotic scene, Hou said.
On Tuesday afternoon, the home served as a place of healing.
Hou’s backyard was packed with family members of the victims, neighbors, police and elected officials, including Long Beach Mayor Robert Garcia. Buddhist monks performed a chant and shared prayers as part of a seven-day funeral ritual. A guard providing security at the home couldn’t help but join the prayers.
“I just want to say thank you for inviting me into your home and for the opportunity to remember three incredible people that [died] in a tragedy that affected the whole city,” the mayor said.
Police officers and fire paramedics responded at about 10:45 p.m. to the single-story home near Temple Avenue and 7th Street, where they found multiple victims — some wearing costumes — inside and outside the home.
Nine people — seven women and two men — were taken to hospitals in the area. Three men were pronounced dead at the scene. Police identified them as Maurice Poe Jr., 25, of Long Beach; Melvin Williams II, 35, of Gardena; and Ricardo Torres, 28, of Inglewood.
Long Beach Police Chief Robert Luna said his department was committed to bringing those responsible to justice.
“Everybody we have assigned to this case wants nothing more than to be able to solve it,” Luna said.
But so far, investigators have little to go on.
The gunman has been described as an adult male wearing dark clothing with his face concealed. Police said he may have fled in a dark-colored vehicle after the shooting.
Hou, 56, said the gunman had appeared at the house before the shooting. He said at about 9:30 p.m. his 27-year-old son, Daniel Chan, said he heard a man dressed in all black yell, “Are you prepared to die tonight?” before running away .
Hou said he was placing food on a table behind a small guest house. He had moved it there because he wanted to keep the crowd away from nearby apartments to lessen the noise.
Meanwhile, his wife, Da Cheng, 47, walked out of the house to ask her husband if he wanted something to drink. That’s when she saw a man standing on the wall, pointing a gun and then firing. Cheng’s godson, who pushed her inside the house when the shooting began, was struck in the back and leg.
Hou took shelter behind the wall of the guest house with his son, Daniel. He saw people fleeing through the side of the house toward him and others running inside the house.
“I tried to see where the shooting was coming from,” Hou said. “I was trying.”
Shortly after the shooting stopped, an eerie silence settled in. Hou got up, ran and saw three young men lying still — dead.
“I started to cry,” Hou said.
He ran inside the house and saw people covered in blood, screaming, “I got hit, I got hit” and others calling the names of friends to see if they were OK. He ran to the front of the house and began pulling other wounded people inside the home.
“I was afraid the gunman would come back,” he said. “I was angry, I was crying, and I was on the phone with the police. I didn’t know what to do.”
Inside, people were applying pressure to gunshot wounds, Cheng said. She said one of the bullets missed hitting her daughter.
Hou said he never had parties at his home. Most celebrations took place elsewhere. But he gave into his son’s pleas to host a birthday celebration for a co-worker. She was also among the injured.
Hou said he couldn’t shake details from that night. The cupcakes being served to the guests had tiny gravestones celebrating Halloween that read, “Happy Birthday.” One had been eaten, he said, leaving exactly 12 cupcakes.
“The same number of victims,” Hou noted.
At about 2:30 p.m. Tuesday, one of the Buddhist monks performed a religious cleansing ceremony, splashing lotus-infused water to bless everyone.
Hou and his wife, Cheng, held their hands in prayer as the monks chanted. Standing nearby was Maurice Poe Sr., whose son Maurice Jr. had been killed.
Poe Sr. stood mostly quietly during the ceremony.
“I don’t know how to even express how I feel,” he said. “What I’m experiencing right now no parent should ever have to experience.”
It was not the only tragedy to befall Long Beach in recent days. A father, mother and toddler died after an alleged drunk driver plowed into them.
“Not even a couple of days after and the DUI crash happens,” said Sithean San, who serves as the chair of Cambodia Town Inc., a nonprofit that promotes Cambodian culture and businesses in the city. “It’s too much. It’s a lot of loss.”
Hou and his wife have begun moving items out of their home. They said they planned to move somewhere else. For now, the family is staying at the homes of friends and relatives.
When the ceremony was done, Hou said he felt a little better, but he couldn’t stop staring at the bouquet of flowers and candles.
“I’m not going to forget them,” he said of the three people who were killed. “I’m going to always pray for them.”
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