Ten years after their 15-year-old daughter was shot and killed, Gwai and Kanorn Bounkeut are still seeking closure.
“All my hopes and dreams collapsed the day my daughter died,” said Gwai, the father. “People celebrate Christmas. I can’t do it in my family. I can’t even celebrate my own birthday,” he said, choking back his tears. Gwai was speaking in front of community members, social workers and a handful of public officials who attended the Richmond Public Library last Saturday afternoon to hold a vigil for his daughter, Chan Bounkeut.
Chan, a former student at Middle College High School, was killed on October 13, 2003. The vigil was also dedicated to other members of the city’s Southeast Asian community who lost their lives in recent years. These victims include Aye Alan Lee, who was killed in a shooting, and three members of the Viengvilai family who died in a house fire this summer.
As the sun began to set, people gathered outside of the library and stood in a semicircle, holding candles that burned inside a glass holder. Led by pastor Tad Cooper, they sang Amazing Graze in Khum, the native language spoken by the Bounkeut family.
“Healing takes time,” Kanorn said through an interpreter, “I may not be able to shop for a wedding dress or attend her graduation, but I hope what happened to me will not happen to other families.”
Chan’s death led to the establishment of SEAYL, Richmond’s Southeast Asian Young Leaders, to reduce violence among young people in the area.
SEAYL organized the vigil and holds an annual summit on youth violence.
During the vigil, members of SEAYL also shared memories of their lost friends.
“He is not someone with many words but he is good at fixing things,” said Multika Chaturabul, friend of Lee, who was shot after a marijuana deal went wrong in 2009.
“I know the pain of losing a family member, a friend,” said Richmond Police Chief Chris Magnus, during the ceremony. “The pain does not diminish even if the time passes. I commend the community for being a part of the solutions to violence and make the community better.”