Tragedy befell the Vietnamese community on Jan 29, 1996, when Thien Minh Ly, a 24-year old Vietnamese man and former graduate of UCLA, was murdered while rollerblading in his Tustin hometown high school tennis court. Ly was found lying in a pool of blood the following morning by a janitor, maimed by an excessive number of stabbing wounds to various parts of his body, as well as slashing wounds to his throat. In the immediate aftermath of his death, friends, family, and acquaintances could not fathom the senselessness of the crime that ended Ly’s life.
All who knew him remembered him with love, respect, and admiration. A man of exemplary integrity, intelligence, confidence and spirit, Ly embodied the model Vietnamese American. He was a dutiful and loving son to his parents, a beloved older brother to his younger siblings, and a friend that one could always count on in times of need. He was an academic in endless pursuit of knowledge: at UCLA, he obtained both an English and a Biology degree in four years, had just completed a Master’s in Physiology and Biophysics at Georgetown, and was contemplating the study of Law just before his death.
While at UCLA, Thien was a leader. He wholeheartedly dedicated himself to the UCLA Vietnamese Students’ Association (VSA) as VSA’s Culture Night Director, VSA’s newsletter editor, and finally, at the height of his VSA involvement, as VSA President ‘92-’93. Hundreds attended the candlelight vigil held for him the same week he was murdered. An article about his death hangs in the UCLA English counseling office. Flowers from all over the VN community overflowed the mortuary during his viewing and funeral. Tears flowed endlessly for Thien; his was a loss mourned by all.
It was not until March 2, 1996 that the mystery surrounding Ly’s murder ended. That day, police arrested Gunner Lindberg, age 21, and Dominic Christopher, age 17, after discovering a letter that Lindberg had written to a former prison inmate in New Mexico. The letter contained graphic details about the murder, as well as the writer’s apparent insoucience about the whole incident. Sandwiched between birthday plans, news about a friend’s baby, and talk about the need for a new tattoo was this boastful account of what happened the night of Jan 29th: Oh I killed a jap a while ago I stabbed him to Death at Tustin High school I walked up to him Dominic was with me and I seen this guy Roller blading and I had a knife.
WE walk in the tennis court where he was I walked up to him. Dominic was right there I walked right up to him and he was scared I looked at him and said ‘Oh I thought I knew you’ and he got happy that he wasn’t gona get jumped. Then I hit him…” “I pulled the knife out a butcher knife and he said ‘no’ then I put the knife to his throught and asked him Do you have a car.
And he grabed my hand that I had the knife in and looked at me, trying to get a description of me so I stomped on his head 3 times and each time said ‘Stop loooking at me’ then he was kinda knocked out Dazzed then I stabbed him in the side about 7 or 8 times he rolled over a little so I stabbed his back out 18 or 19 times then he layed flat and I slit one side of his throught on his jugular vain.
Oh, the sounds the guy was making were like Uhhh. then Dominic said ‘do it again ‘ and I said ‘I already Did. Dude. Ya, Do it again’ so I cut his other juggular vain, and Dominic said “Kill him Do it again’ and I said ‘he’s already Dead’ Dominic Said ‘Stab him in the heart’ So I stabbed him about 20 or 21 times in the heart…” “Then I wanted to go back and look, so we Did and he was dieing just then taking in some bloody gasps of air so I nidged his face with my shoe a few times, then i told Dominic to kick him, so he kicked the f— out of his face and he still has blood on his Shoes all over…then I ditched the knife, after whiping it clean onto the side of the 5 freeway…here’s the clippings from the newspaper we were on all the channels. (LA. Times, Orange County, “Grisly Account of Ly Killing Believed Penned by Suspect,” 3/7/96)
Since the time of arrest, both parties have confessed their part in the murder. The original arraignment date was set for March 22, 1996 for Lindberg, but has been pushed back to April 19, 1996. Likewise, Christopher’s arraignment has been pushed back twice. It is not known yet whether Christopher will be tried as an adult. Was there racial motivation behind the crime White supremecist paraphernalia were found at Lindberg’s and Christopher’s home.
Lindberg carelessly referred to Ly as a “jap” in the letter he wrote to his friend. Yet Lindberg staunchly denies a racial motive. The Tustin police, too, seem reluctant to publicize the racial implications of the crime. For instance, the Tustin Weekly omitted the words “I killed a jap” in their rendition of Lindberg’s letter (Tustin Weekly, “Graphic death scene details described,” 3/8/96) Furthermore, both the Tustin Weekly and the LA Times have stated that the police attribute robbery as the motive for Ly’s murder. In light of this information, the inference that can be made is obvious.
Racial motivation undoubtedly played a part in the murder. For how could Gunner Lindberg and Dominic Christopher so easily, blithely, and violently kill Thien Minh Ly if they respected him as a human being They “stomped” on him with about as much thought as they would step on an ant. They listened to his cries of pain and torture with sadistic delight. They continually attacked him when he was already helpless, and then, to add further insult to the injury, Christopher kicked Ly’s bleeding face. To the two murderers, Thien was nothing but a “jap,” a sub-human organism whose life they had a right to take.
But what did Thien mean to those who loved him; how did they feel They are heart-broken, bereft, angry that his death was caused by an unnecessary, random act of violence. And what about the Vietnamese Community News about Ly’s murder and the ensuing arrest of his two assailants have horrified and enraged the Vietnamese community in Orange county, so much so that the Vietnaese Community of Orange County (VNCOC), a non-profit human and social services group, and various other organizations throughout the VN community in Orange county, joined under the name of the Thien Minh Ly Ad Hoc Committee.
Their purpose is to ensure that the murderers receive just punishment for taking Ly’s life. A candlelight vigil was held April 6, 1996 by the Council of Asian Pacific Americans of Orange County to raise awareness about violence against Asian-Americans; one of the people being honored was Thien Minh Ly. WE must preserve Thien Minh Ly’s name in order to remind others that no one is safe in the U. S while ignorance and racial hate run rampant. WE must strive to become more aware of the dangers facing Asain-Americans in present day American society and educate others that all our cultures are beautiful.
WE must cry out that a tragedy such as this could happen and work to teach everyone to respect all of humanity. These kind of hate crimes and unjustified and unreasonable. For instance, when Gunner said that he killed a jap, it makes me so sick. The absolute carelessness of just casually saying it in a letter is just decussating! And the thought that he didnt even care that it was a human being that he killed makes me feel embarrassed to belong to the human race. For one person to do such a horrible thing and not think twice about what he just did is appalling.