Sixteen-year-old Kevin Harm had just returned home with his father, Choeun Harm, after mowing lawns for the family's landscaping business...
Seattle Times staff reporters
Statement from the Phan, Harm and Sok families released by Harborview Medical Center
Yesterday afternoon's horrible event cost us four family members. They will surely be missed by all of us. We ask that the media please correct the currently published report. Saroeun Phan has been struggling with schizophrenia and depression for several years and has sought medical attention numerous times. She has been taking medication prescribed to her by physicians. It is not certain whether she has been properly taking her medication these past couple of months.
It is tough enough to grieve with the loss of family members, it's even harder dealing with false reports. No arguments or fights took place the night before and no ill-will existed in the household. This has truly been an unforeseen, tragic event.
Our family would like to request solitude as we mourn the loved ones we lost. Thank you to all who have sent and continue to send their love, care & prayers. We will certainly need our friends in the coming weeks & months.
If you wish to contribute monetarily to costs of funeral & medical expenses, we have set up a benevolent account at BECU. That information is below. Deposits can be made at any BECU accepting deposits, by mail or electronically (for BECU Members only).
'Phan/Harm Memorial Fund'
Acct # 3586082948
PO BOX 34044
SEATTLE, WA 98124-1044
BECU Members can call: (800) 233-2328
Phan, Harm & Sok Family
Sixteen-year-old Kevin Harm had just returned home with his father, Choeun Harm, after mowing lawns for the family's landscaping business. A friend called his father with an invitation: The salmon were running.
Choeun was in the living room of the family's West Seattle home preparing to go fishing when his mother-in-law, Saroeun Phan, 60, came downstairs dressed completely in white. Phan spoke briefly with Choeun about taking some checks to the bank as Kevin's 7-year-old sister, Nevaeh — Heaven spelled backward — was cuddled beneath a blanket on a couch nearby, watching television.
Chouen, 43, bent over to tie his shoes when Phan pulled a small handgun from her jacket and shot him in the back of the head.
Kevin said there were no raised voices, nothing out of the ordinary in the moments before. It was just a seemingly normal Thursday afternoon fractured by the loud report of a handgun.
Phan next shot at Nevaeh, who hid under the blankets, and then at Kevin. Somehow, the bullets missed both.
After her gun jammed, Phan went back upstairs and retrieved another one. She then returned and resumed firing.
She finally ended it by turning the gun on herself. By then, Kevin's father, sisters Jennifer Harm, 17, and Melina Harm, 14, were dead and his mother, Thyda Luellen Phan, 42, was wounded.
"She was trying to take everybody out in that house," said Kevin.
On Friday, Seattle police said they were still without a motive behind the city's deadliest shooting spree in four years. And the family of Phan — a woman known to those in the crowded household as "Grandma" — was struggling to find answers.
The surviving family members, in a statement, said Phan had been suffering from schizophrenia and depression for several years and had sought medical attention numerous times. She had been taking medication prescribed to her by physicians, they said, but it was not clear whether she has been properly taking it over the past couple of months.
Still, many said there was nothing that could explain why she would arm herself with two handguns and methodically gun down her family.
Family friends said Phan had fled the Khmer Rouge in her native Cambodia, walking through the jungle for days and crossing the border into Thailand. She and family members came to the U.S. in 1985, said family friend Sean Phuong, 47, who was 14 when he, Phan and thousands of others escaped the brutal regime.
Several relatives said that Phan could be playful and funny, engaging in games of tag and hide-and-seek with young family members.In Cambodia, and later in Seattle, Phan was known for dressing young women and their bridesmaids for weddings. She spent whole days fitting them into gowns, arranging their hair and makeup. She made many friends in the community, Phuong said.
But she was also plagued by voices.
"She had too much in her head. She wanted quiet in her head," said Phuong.
In Cambodia, Phan once became enraged and stabbed her sister, said Itaily Sun, 26, another relative.
When Phan became agitated or fearful, she would be given her medication that would make her sleep, Phuong said.
Kevin recalled that one time his grandmother heard gunfire on a teenager's video game and thought someone was trying to kill her.
There were other pressures in her life over the past two years, said Koy Srouch, 39, another family friend.
Phan and her husband, Chhoey Sok, 62, paid rent for a house on Beacon Hill, but the landlord apparently didn't pay the mortgage. The couple was evicted.
Recently Phan had been mugged walking home from the grocery store on Beacon Hill, and feared going out alone. After the attack, she took a self-defense class and learned to fire a gun, Sok said.
Three generations of the extended family, including two cousins, moved together into the West Seattle home about a month and a half ago. Eleven people lived in the house with three stories, including a daylight basement.
Phan's daughter, Thyda Luellen Phan, worked at Magic Lanes Bowling & Casino in White Center. That job and the family landscaping business, which struggled in the recession, were the families' sole means of support.
Sok said his wife had been suicidal.
Sok said the guns used by Phan — a 9-mm Taurus and a .25-caliber Baretta — were his and had been purchased 10 years ago. Family members said they had been carefully hidden from her because of her mental-health problems.
"Nobody knows how she found them," said relative Tony Sun.
Gunfire and desperation
On Thursday, after shooting her son-in-law, then retrieving the second gun, Phan next shot her 17-year-old granddaughter, Jennifer Harm, who had run to her father's aid. She then shot her daughter, Thyda Luellen Phan, 42, who had also come to comfort her husband, Kevin said.
All were shot in the home's main living area on the ground floor.
Thyda (pronounced Tee-da) fled outside, only to return almost immediately in a desperate effort to save her children, said Lisa Sun, 31, a cousin of Thyda's who ran to a back bedroom when the gunfire erupted.
Thyda was shot two more times before she made it outside a second time, Lisa Sun said.
The others fled downstairs to the daylight basement, followed by Phan, who positioned herself in front of a rear sliding-glass door.
"She was blocking us in so she could shoot us all," said Lisa Sun. "She just wanted to kill her whole family."
Five people were cowering in a tiny bedroom that was plastered with green posters of the Buddha and lined with boxes from the family's recent move: Kevin, Lisa, Nevaeh, Melina, and Jennifer's boyfriend, Allen Green, 18.
Phan shot through the door, the bullet just missing Kevin's head. Kevin said he punched out the small window. Lisa Sun climbed out behind him and they ran to a nearby drugstore to call police. Green also made it out.
Kevin returned to the home and pulled Nevaeh out through the window.
By this time a wounded Jennifer had crawled into the bedroom where she sprawled on the floor. Unable to make it out the window, she pleaded with the others not to leave her, Kevin and Lisa Sun said.
Kevin begged Melina to come out, but she wouldn't leave Jennifer. That's when Phan, now outside, came around the corner of the house and shot at Kevin. Again she missed, and he ran off. She then fired through the window, striking Melina.
"The image keeps playing back: Lina crying at the window," Kevin said, burying his head in his hands.
"I don't see how she missed me five times," he said.
Police on the scene
By this time police had responded to 911 calls and were outside the home, according to Seattle's Assistant Police Chief Jim Pugel. Officers heard gunshots coming from the home.
Sok, Phan's husband, arrived at the home, rushed past police and ran inside the home. He saw his wife put the gun to her head and kill herself, police said.
He walked back outside and told police it was over.
"I was too late to help her," a weeping Sok said Friday through a translator. "I was too late."
On Friday, after police completed their investigation at the crime scene, surviving family members were allowed inside the home to retrieve some of their belongings.
As he walked through the house where blood stains marked where his uncle and cousins were killed, Tony Sun, 17, was overcome.
"Oh my God. Oh my God," he said.
Friday evening, the large extended family gathered at the Khemarak Pothiram Temple for a memorial service. Sitting shoeless on rugs under a white tent, they prayed that the souls of the deceased would make their way to the next life.
Pink-wrapped packages had been prepared, filled with pencils, books, drinks and other things that the spirits would need for their journey. Monks clad in orange chanted prayers, and incense hung in the air.
Thyda was there, just out of the hospital. But she could do little more than whisper, her voice weakened after her ordeal.
Sok, Phan's husband, came outside toward the end of the ceremony, looking weary. Faced by numerous reporters, he clasped his hands in front of his face and looking pained. Speaking Cambodian, he repeatedly thanked those who had helped him.
Several family members had their arms around him. And then he walked away.
Lynn Thompson: 206-464-8305 or firstname.lastname@example.org
Christine Clarridge: 206-464-8983 or email@example.com
Seattle Times staff reporters Maureen O'Hagan, Nancy Bartley and Sean Collins Walsh contributed to this report. Ranny Kang provided translation.