Drive-by shooting is St. Paul's seventh homicide this year

Thursday, July 2, 2009

Police chief reaches out to Hmong leaders for help
By Nick Ferraro
Updated: 06/29/2009 03:31:26 PM CDT

Keith Halvorsen said he will never be able to forget the scene that played out 30 feet from the bedroom window of his Beech Street house early Sunday.

"I watched a kid die," he said while smoking a cigarette on his front steps on Sunday afternoon.

After hearing gunshots, Halvorsen peeked through his bedroom blinds and saw a Honda Civic parked on the street. People were trying frantically to help a shooting victim inside the car, he said.

"People were hysterical ... they were trying to help the kid," Halvorsen, 48, said. "But what could they do?"

St. Paul police said the victim, 23-year-old Chai Moua, of St. Paul, was the target of a drive-by shooting shortly after he parked his car in the 1200 block of Beech Street just after 2 a.m.

Police spokesman Sgt. Paul Schnell said an initial investigation indicates another vehicle pulled up and an occupant fired multiple shots at Chai Moua's car before he and a front-seat passenger could get out.

When police arrived, they found Chai Moua unresponsive, slumped in the driver's seat. He was pronounced dead at the scene.

"An older gentleman had his hand over the kid's left eye to help stop the bleeding," Halvorsen said. "And when paramedics came, he took his hand off and his head fell forward ... it was lifeless."

Chai Moua's passenger, a male friend, walked away from the shooting uninjured, police said.

On Sunday afternoon, several of Chai Moua's relatives and friends gathered outside his brother's house across the street from the shooting.

The victim's nephew, Chuyeng Moua, said the gunman fired the shots while his uncle was backing into a parking spot.

"He was reversing his car, so he could park and fix his car," said Chuyeng Moua, 19.

The motive remains under investigation, Schnell said, adding they do not believe the shooting was random.

Police have not identified any suspects, Schnell said.

Sunday's shooting was the city's seventh homicide of the year, which is the same number as last year at this time, Schnell said.

But three of the victims were Hmong men, Schnell said, prompting Police Chief John Harrington to reach out to the city's Hmong leaders Sunday.

"That's a sizable and significant amount," Schnell said of the number of Hmong men killed this year. "So (Harrington) has been in contact with Hmong community leadership to see how to better work together to try and prevent these issues."

Chai Moua grew up in St. Paul as the youngest of six brothers and graduated from Arlington High School, his nephew said. He was single and had no children.

He was into cars, his nephew said, and was proud of his heritage, often offering to cook traditional Hmong food at family get-togethers.

"If you had a problem or needed something, he'd be the guy you'd go to," Chuyeng Moua said.

Chai Moua also had a troubled past. According to Minnesota Bureau of Criminal Apprehension records, Chai Moua was convicted in 2006 of second-degree assault with a deadly weapon, a felony, and served six months in prison. In 2008, he was charged with third-degree criminal sexual conduct, also a felony, for which he served two months in jail.

Kevin Johnson, Halvorsen's next-door neighbor, said Chai Moua's brother, Choj Moua, and his family moved into the Beech Street house across the street from his a few months ago. They keep to themselves and are friendly neighbors, he said.

"I feel bad for the family," said Johnson, 47. "I don't want this to happen to anybody. It's pretty messed up."

Cameron Cegelske, who lives four houses down from Sunday's shooting, said he's concerned about the recent level of violent crime in the Dayton's Bluff neighborhood. He noted that in January, a 43-year-old man was killed during a botched drug deal less than a block from Sunday's shooting.

"That's two killings around here in six months," said Cegelske, 31, a member of the Margaret Recreation Area Block Club. "I'm a fairly new resident — I've been living here four years — and this is not what I signed up for."

Halvorsen, who moved into his house last fall, pointed to a reminder of Sunday's shooting — a bullet hole about a foot from his bedroom window.

"There's no excuse for this," he said.

Nick Ferraro can be reached at 651-228-2173.


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