Dung Pham knows only one way to survive the loss of his 23-year-old daughter, Kim, who died last week after she was severely beaten outside a Santa Ana nightclub.
“All I can do is practice to forget,” Pham, 60, said of his youngest child. “Forget the memories. Forget the big moments. Forget everything. Only then would we suffer less.”
Police said Kim Pham was attacked in the predawn hours of Jan. 18 as she stood in line outside The Crosby club. She was still unconscious when officers arrived. On Tuesday, she died after being taken off life support.
Police have arrested two suspects in Pham’s death and are looking for another person of interest. One of Pham’s friends said the confrontation might have started when she unintentionally stepped into another group’s photo.
“I can’t imagine it starts with someone interrupting a photo,” her father said in an interview Sunday. “I don’t know what to think.”
Pham’s eyes began to well up when he described the last time he saw his daughter, who was married and had recently moved to Huntington Beach.
“I called her home last Wednesday,” two days before the attacks, he said, “so I could help change the oil in her car. When you have children, no matter how old, you always want to make sure all is well, even the little things.”
Kim Pham had just gotten a job at Nordstrom and wanted to celebrate. Her father said he hoped to hear all about her new job, but when two police officers, wearing suits, knocked on his door after dawn on Jan. 18, he braced himself instead.
“I knew it involved a family member,” he said. “Who would come to your house at a time like that?”
Dung Pham said he immigrated to the U.S. from Vietnam in November 1991. His daughter was just 1 then, but soon, at age 5, she would experience heartbreak with the loss of her mother to breast cancer. Because of that experience, “she always looked for the people in society who are forgotten or abandoned. She would try to uplift them,” he said. “She wrote to prisoners to offer them hope and a reason to live. I don’t know how she knew them.”
Kim Pham graduated from Chapman University with a degree in psychology. A year ago this month, she married. Her husband studies business at UCLA, living in Los Angeles and returning home on weekends.
On Jan. 17, Kim went to The Crosby with friends. “She worried about how I worried for her safety, and she would often say to me, ‘There’s no need. I have to have the chance to grow,’” her father said. “She has always lived with me. Only recently did she save enough money to move out” of the family’s Westminster home.
After his first wife’s death, Pham, who has a son 10 years older than Kim, remarried. His second wife had four children of her own. The family was surprised to learn of Kim Pham’s wishes to donate her organs.
“But it fits when I think of the person my daughter is,” her father said. “I have always taught her to live a good life — and all the good she has done, I’m only starting to learn about some of them now.”
Pham said he regrets that he could not make time to eat dinner with his daughter in her new home before the holidays. She recently learned how to cook some traditional Vietnamese dishes and wanted him to taste her bun bo Hue, spicy beef and rice noodles.
Every Christmas, Kim Pham would express her feelings to her father on paper. In December, he sent her a card for the first time.
She texted him back in a message sprinkled with hearts: “Thankkkkkyou daddy. I love it and I love you! I thank God for daddy and your kind words. I promise you I always keep my faith. In God I trust, because he gave me you as my Dad. I love my dad so much. Best daddy in the whole world!”
Last week, Vanesa Tapia Zavala, a 25-year-old mother and a Santa Ana resident, pleaded not guilty to murder in connection with Pham’s death. She is being held on $1-million bail. Police have declined to release the names of the second suspect or of the other person being sought.
Dung Pham, a security guard, said he wants to know more about the police investigation.
He likens his pain to that of veterans returning from war. “People come back. Shoot themselves. Shoot each other. They can go crazy all because they cannot hide from their memories,” he said. “We would live a freer life if we can forget.”