Halloween violence in Long Beach leaves six dead, a city reeling with loss
In the Long Beach home of a Cambodian family, Buddhist monks chanted and prayed for the dead. It didn’t matter at all that most of the victims were neither Cambodian nor Buddhist, said Chanchenda Hou.
It was his home that a diverse group of people came to celebrate a birthday and Halloween. It was his home a gunman sprayed with bullets. Twelve shot. Three dead. Asian, black, Latino. Of different races and beliefs.
“I’m not going to forget them,” Hou said. “I’m going to always pray for them.”
At a mosque, miles away, thousands packed in to grapple with a second Halloween tragedy in Long Beach. The crowd was there to mourn a young father, mother and their little boy — Omar, age 3 — killed after they were hit by a suspected drunk driver on Halloween night.
Inside the mosque, most of the mourners were Muslim. But the pain radiated beyond.
Long Beach is reeling from the violence of the Halloween holiday that left six people dead. They hit different communities in the racially diverse city but brought many groups together in mourning.
“It’s too much,” 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 a lot of loss.”
The young couple, Raihan, 32, and Joseph Awaida, 30, who were described as dedicated to community service, volunteered at For the Child, a nonprofit in the city that helps suspected victims of child abuse.
“These were not insular people — these were young people who really reached out into our community and were so passionate and sensitive,” said Michele Winterstein, the nonprofit’s executive director. “They are very loved within the Muslim community, but they are being grieved by a much broader community.”
Mayor Robert Garcia opened Tuesday night’s City Council meeting with a moment of silence for the victims of both incidents. He spoke briefly about the Awaida family and the three men killed in the shooting, who have been identified as Maurice Poe Jr., 25, of Long Beach; Melvin Williams II, 35, of Gardena; and Ricardo Torres, 28, of Inglewood.
Poe Jr., he said, was a father of a little girl and loved Long Beach, the city where he was born and raised. Williams was an avid churchgoer and loved to sing. Torres was a line cook who was known for his smile.
“We know just in the last week we have lost some really amazing people to two very tragic events,” the mayor said. “These two incidents that happened right before Halloween and on Halloween have shaken our community.”
The shooting, which occurred two days before Halloween, began when someone climbed the wall behind Hou’s home from an alleyway. The person opened fire at nearly 30 people who were attending the party that Hou’s son was hosting.
Hou took shelter behind a small guesthouse with his son Daniel while people ran inside the house and around them. An eerie silence settled in shortly after the shooting stopped.
When Hou got up, he saw the three young men lying still — dead.
“I started to cry,” he said.
The people shot were as diverse as their ages, place of residency and ethnic backgrounds. The victims’ ages range from 20 to 49. They were Latino, black and Cambodian and lived in Compton, Lawndale and Los Angeles.
This week, Hou decided to commemorate them the best way he could.
Tuesday afternoon, his backyard was packed with monks, relatives of the victims, neighbors, police, and elected officials, including the Long Beach mayor, Councilwoman Jeannine Pearce and Assemblyman Patrick O’Donnell, whose district includes the neighborhood where the shooting took place.
Hou and his wife, Da Cheng, held their hands in prayer as the Buddhist monks chanted during a religious cleansing ceremony. Standing quietly nearby was Maurice Poe Sr., whose son Maurice Jr., had been killed.
“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.”
Long Beach Police Chief Robert Luna said his department is committed to bringing those responsible to justice, but so far, investigators have little to go on. The gunman, who fled after the shooting, has been described as an adult male wearing dark clothing with his face concealed.
“We will be here for you guys, not just today, not just this week,” Pearce told the crowd. “If you need anything, the city of Long Beach is your family and your home.”
Meanwhile, another community in Long Beach also grieved.
Halloween night could not have felt safer in the Bixby Knolls area, a neighborhood with wide streets and large houses. Keeping up tradition, the Awaidas had headed with their son, Omar, to a family house party a few blocks away from their home. People trickled in and out as the toddler played a keyboard and sang "The Itsy Bitsy Spider.” After some trick-or-treating, the Awaidas decided to call it a night.
“When they walked out the door, they were exhausted and so happy,” said Joseph’s aunt, Cecilia Ramos, who hosted the gathering. “It was such a gift that we were all together.”
Minutes later, a 20-year-old driver traveling on Country Club Drive near Los Cerritos Park failed to make a turn, drove onto the sidewalk and hit the family, police said.
Carlo Navarro of Long Beach, whom police identified as the driver, was released on $100,000 bail on Nov. 1 after being arrested on suspicion of driving under the influence and gross vehicular manslaughter. On Tuesday, he was taken into custody in connection with a burglary that took place in the Bixby Knolls area on June 30. He is being held on $500,000 bail.
Raihan, who received a master’s in social work last May from Cal State Long Beach, had been applying for jobs in that field. Joseph was working at his father’s auto shop and had dreams of becoming a doctor.
Long Beach’s tight-knit Muslim community, as well as others whose lives the Awaidas had touched, has rallied to support the family with food, donations and messages of support. According to a GoFundMe page, about 4,000 donors have raised over $220,000 for funeral and medical expenses. Another site, Launchgood, has raised more than $170,000.
On Monday, several thousand people attended a memorial service at the Islamic Society of Orange County before the three were buried nearby.
Imam Tarek Mohamed of the Long Beach Islamic Center said that the outpouring of support reflects both Islamic tradition and “the young age of the three people being taken in what I believe should be a very safe night.”
“It was a historical number,” he said of the people who showed up to pay their respects. “It had never happened before for this kind of community.”
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