Murders of 6 kids are all but forgotten

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

By Rubén Rosario Article

Last Updated: 09/06/2008 09:57:15 PM CDT

Pat Hogan will never forget the day he dug a mass grave wide enough to fit the bodies of six children side by side.

It was Sunday afternoon, Sept. 13, 1998. Hogan, then a grounds worker and now the superintendent of Forest Lawn Cemetery in Maplewood, remembers being called in as he was getting ready to watch the Vikings-Rams game.

Instead, he listened to the game on the radio as he dug the final resting place for the victims — all siblings — of one of the worst mass murders in Minnesota, certainly in St. Paul, in recent memory.

"It is a sight I hope to never see again,'' Hogan recalled last week after he took me to the grassy burial site.

The kids — three boys and three girls, ages 5 to 11 — are on Lot 134, Block 33 on the cemetery's northwest corner, between the "Anderson" and "Hang'' graves.

I could not get there without Hogan's help. Ten years later, there are no markers, no headstones, nothing to identify who these children were and where they lie. I believe many people have walked over them without knowing it.

They deserve better, even now. They deserved far better than the fate that awaited them Sept. 3, 1998, as they played outside their apartment at 1541 Timberlake Road in St. Paul.

One by one, each was called to come inside by their then24-year-old mother, Khoua Her.

A child bride of Hmong descent by 12 and a former Thailand refugee camp resident, Khoua Her was reeling from personal, financial and emotional setbacks that included undiagnosed depression.

She was separated from her husband, the children's primary caretaker, whom she had accused of assaulting her on numerous occasions. She had lost her job as an assistant at a suburban marketing firm and was dependent on public assistance. Other than in-laws, she had no family here.

She was also dating a 17-year-old reputed gangster, a teenager who later told police about a bizarre suicide pact the two had agreed to carry out once he got out of jail.

KILLED ONE BY ONE

There is no greater or stronger love, bond or blind trust than that of a child toward a parent.

Khoua Her, regardless of her very real demons, betrayed that trust in a stunningly violent and tragic way.

Using the ruse that she wanted to play hide-and-seek inside the home with them, Khoua Her called in her oldest first.

Eleven-year-old Koua Eai Hang was first to die, according to court documents. He was found at the top of the landing of Apartment G's second floor, a black cloth wrapped tightly around his neck.

The others, called into the home in descending order by age, were found similarly strangled around the split-level apartment in the Mc-Donough public housing complex. They were Samson Hang, 9; Nali Hang, 8; Tang Lung, 7; A-ee, 6; and Tang Kee Hang, 5.

That's how they were laid to rest, inside child-size Monticello vaults, west to east, oldest to youngest.

Officials discovered the bodies after Khoua Her, who had put on a red ceremonial dress and wrapped an extension cord around her neck in a feeble suicide attempt before she called police to alert them to the parental slaughter.

Hundreds of mourners attended the burial the day after Hogan dug his hole. They prayed for the dead kids. They brought flowers and other mementos. Then they left

Khoua Her's attorney planned an insanity defense before the woman pleaded guilty to murder. She owned up to the crime. She was sentenced Jan. 8, 1999, to 50 years in state prison. The earliest she can walk out of the Shakopee Prison for Women is Jan. 5, 2032 — 24 years from now. If that happens, she still would have to satisfy terms of her probation until 2048.

On the day of her sentencing, before she was sent to prison, she talked nonstop for nearly two hours about the struggles in her life. But she never expressed in those two hours any real remorse for killing her children. I know. I was there.

"There will be no mention that Koua Eai kicked around a soccer ball and played marbles with neighborhood kids. No one will record for history that Nali loved to read or write, or that the kids kept a turtle and pigeons as pets, or what kind of aspirations they had,'' I wrote in a column published the next day.

"That's the true tragedy here.''

Still is, a decade later.

RARELY VISITED GRAVES

But there is always some positive to such a negative. We can spin it divine or natural or how we like.

The case brought to light, both locally and nationally, the culturally muffled taboo subjects of mental and domestic violence facing St. Paul and especially the nation's Hmong community entering a second generation of existence in 21st-century America.

By no means was this tragedy culturally exclusive. This is a universal problem.

"I truly believe that (the killings) ultimately ended up saving a lot of children as well as women, because it did bring to light, like never before, issues that were also affecting the American community at large," said Ilean Her (no direct relation to Khoua Her), executive director of the St. Paul-based Council of Asian Pacific Minnesotans.

Hogan recalls that Khoua Her called the cemetery a few years ago from prison.

"She was simply inquiring about the procedure and cost of marking the graves," Hogan said. Nothing came of the phone call.

"The Hmong community places the memorializatio n of their loved ones in very high regard and spares little expense in marking the grave,'' Hogan confided. "Some of the most beautiful and expensive markers and monuments here at Forest Lawn are on the graves of Hmong people."

Hogan has seen few visitors at the unmarked gravesite in recent years. Those he has seen, when he has looked up from his office, have been uniformed St. Paul cops.

"We've picked up flowers over the years that the cops have put down,'' Hogan said.

John Vomastek, a St. Paul police commander and head of the homicide squad at the time of the 1998 killings, has no idea which cops showed up at the burial site.

"I don't know who those officers are. But I did not even know we were doing that,'' Vomastek told me last week. "Maybe it's just these guys are still struggling with that, because it was a really sad day."

KIDS REMEMBERED

But someone — relative, cop or other — remembered these kids last week.

Hogan and I discovered candy placed atop the unmarked graves Wednesday, the 10th anniversary of the mass killings.

There were three cellophane packages, each containing two white-frosted devil's-food cakes with dark chocolate stripes. Multicolored candy balls, also wrapped in cellophane, had been placed nearby.

Hogan and Ilean Her both explained that the items signaled an offering to help feed and nourish the departed in the afterlife.

"The vaults were smaller than others because some of these kids were really young,'' Hogan said. "It's just a heart-breaking thing to see."

Elsewhere, a ceremony took place. The apartment where the murders occurred was "cleansed'' of the dead kids' spirits by Hmong spiritual elders and converted into a St. Paul public housing police substation in 2000.

At the gravesite Wednesday, I said a prayer for the kids as well as for their mom and then headed downtown, where the political circus, and the police presence making sure it would not be disrupted, was in full swing.

Rubén Rosario can be reached at rrosario@pioneerpress.com or 651-228-5454.

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3 hlub:

Vue Vang May 4, 2011 at 3:16 PM  

I'm amaze how I, myself still remember this event that took away part of me when i was 8 years old playing with samson and his brothers the day and probably that morning before everything happened. Little as I was, i remember what we did, where we went, and what we even did inside that house. I would probably say, majority of the kids that grew up with these six by far would have forgotten about them but not me. Some odd reasons I feel like my friends have not let go the devastation that has come upon them. Now 20, I don't know why but I couldn't visit them at the grave. I really don't know what's stopping me but sadly I've been having dreams about us playing like the old days. Maybe this is why I've from time to time come read these articles so I won't forget what happen. I miss them, I totally think if we had grew up together, they would of gotten somewhere far like me, in college. I wonder from time to time, why why why their mother had done this. As much as I want to express myself, I'll stop here. I feel bad enough for saying nothing and just keep it inside of me for soo long. But I would like to Thank You for posting this article. My blessings and prayers are with them, Yet I know they are still waiting for their mom in heaven. I hope she know she will NEVER get away with this. 50 years of prison is not enough in my opinion. She had the guts to do that to her kids, I hope shes ready to face the consequences afterlife. Wish her the best where ever she is. Before i go, TO MY FRIENDS, I've always thought about you guys, never forgot the past about our friendship. I see your dad time to time and seems to me like he was doing good the last time i saw him. These dreams i have about you guys, i hope is for the good of our friendship. Much love and care for you.

Sincerely Vue Vang.

For the author that wrote this article, if you ever read my comment, please contact me at vuevang08@hotmail.com and I would like to ask a few questions if that's okay. Many Thanks

Mama Mia September 1, 2011 at 11:25 AM  

I was a young woman at the time of this event, I taught ESL through Lao Family. I too remember this as an event that changed my world. I don't know the true story of Khoua Her, possibly nobody ever will, but I was convinced that nobody in their right mind would hurt their children, least of all a Hmong mother. It ultimately has led me to medical school where I plan on pursuing a career in psychiatry, hoping to help people deal with their mental health issues in a healthy and positive way. Vue, Thank you for sharing your story, I am sure that many kids who knew these children do remember them, but it is painful to remember, and impossible to understand.

Anonymous,  November 16, 2012 at 5:58 PM  

Amazing thing is...I was incarcerated with her...doesnt seem to faze her where she is and why she is there

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