Investigation continues in West Covina killing

Homicide detectives and a K-9 unit survey the scene in West Covina, Calif., where a woman was found dead.
(San Gabriel Valley Tribune / Watchara Phomicinda / Associated Press)
Los Angeles Times Staff Writers

The neighbors called it “The Castle,” and when Hsiao Hsu and her husband moved into the multimillion-dollar, 6,000-square-foot compound in the hills near West Covina, they had fulfilled a dream.

“They loved that house,” said Irene Marquez, a neighbor on Cameron Avenue.

The walled and gated residence also offered far more privacy and security than the ranch-style home they had left just two blocks away. The couple added security cameras. A sign out front read: “Warning: All activities are recorded to aid in the prosecution of any crimes committed against this facility.”

On Thursday, those trappings of protection only amplified the mystery that surrounds the midday killing of Hsu, who was shot apparently while reporting a burglary to a 911 dispatcher.

Marquez’s four Afghan hounds began barking loudly around noon Wednesday, when investigators believe several shots were fired.

A gun and gloves were found nearby, as Los Angeles County sheriff’s deputies combed the hillsides for clues. Authorities said more than one suspect may have been involved.

But with few other details emerging and no arrests made, neighbors remained on edge Thursday night. “It freaks me out,” said Ronald Wheeler, who lives across the street. “If it’s random, they could have just as well crossed the street and come this way.”

Wheeler said he was in the yard around the time of the shooting. “I didn’t hear or see anything until the [police] helicopter started [circling]. That was the first indication something was wrong.”

Hsu, 45, a real estate agent, went by the name Michelle Chien. She and her husband, Robert C. Chien, had two young children who were not home when the attack occurred.

The couple had eyed their new Windsor-style home while living nearby and were proud of the deal they made when it went up for sale, neighbors said.

Marquez recalled the couple walking down their long driveway and handing out See’s candy as they introduced themselves.

“They were really nice people,” she said. “Who does that?”

Chien owns A Top Technology Inc., a Pomona Valley company that builds specialized desktop computer housing for gaming enthusiasts, and was a member of the Chinese American Information Technology Assn.

Chien arrived at the home shortly after deputies and was openly distraught. On Thursday he was staying with family members and trying to deal with the aftermath of the killing, said his sister, Kelly Chien. “Everybody is trying to help,” she said, before declining to answer more questions.

Andrea Madrigal, 13, lived two doors down from the Chiens before they moved and the two families had grown close, celebrating birthdays together and vacationing in Mexico two years ago. “It’s hard to think about what they’re going to go through. . . . Whenever we had a problem, [Hsu] would always offer to help, even if she couldn’t,” Madrigal said.

Her parents were at the Chiens’ home Tuesday night playing tennis, she said.

With no suspects identified, Marquez and other neighbors were left to puzzle about what might have happened and whether they may be in danger.

“I thought it was safe,” she said. But she noted the economic slump had triggered foreclosures in the neighborhood and recently there seemed to be a constant stream of strangers passing through. “I want to get locks on the gates,” she said.

Wheeler said the neighborhood’s gates and walls may give residents a false sense of security. “We’re taking extra precautions,” he said. “We already talked to a security guy.”

Anyone with information is asked to call the sheriff’s homicide bureau at (323) 890-5500.