Police have arrested two young suspects in connection with the murder of a Vietnamese mother of 14 who was shot at her bedside when a gang of Vietnamese youths stormed into the family's home in Santa Ana, law enforcement officials confirmed Monday.
The two Vietnamese suspects, age 12 and 13, were in custody at Orange County Juvenile Hall in connection with the robbery and slaying of 46-year-old Huyen Thi Hoang on May 6--the latest in a series of violent residential robberies that have plagued Orange County's Vietnamese community.
Santa Ana police refused to discuss the case Monday, except to say that there were "major developments" in the investigation, but sources in the Orange County Juvenile Court and the district attorney's office confirmed the arrests.
Further information was being withheld in order to avoid jeopardizing the case, said one of the sources, who asked not to be identified.
The two appeared Monday in juvenile court for a detention hearing and were ordered to remain in custody pending trial.
Hoang, who fled Vietnam with her husband and children in a homemade boat 10 years ago, had a habit of retiring to her bedroom each evening to pray. On May 6, 19-year-old Kim Huong Ngo was returning to the family home from night school when a man with a scarf around his nose and mouth came up to her in the driveway and demanded her keys.
When she refused, he grabbed the keys, and he and four other people walked with her to the front door and pushed their way in. Four of the intruders held Kim, her father and 11 of her brothers and sisters at gunpoint, demanding money, while a fifth began walking down the hallway and checking bedrooms.
Eventually, he entered the room where Hoang was praying. "I heard her scream, 'Oh, my God,' and then I heard the gunshot," Kim said. "After that, they all ran out of the house."
Hoang died at the scene.
Family members on Monday said they had not been informed of any developments in the case. "We haven't heard anything from the police," said Trung Ngo, 59, the slain woman's husband. "There was an investigator here four or five days ago," he said, but he was "just asking questions."
The shooting had left Santa Ana police investigators perplexed. In the hours that followed the shooting, they had little to go on other than reports from a neighbor that he had seen a dark-green Datsun whose occupants seemed to be casing the housing tract in the late afternoon on four occasions before the shooting.
Nor was there any immediate indication of why Hoang had been shot. Santa Ana Police Sgt. John McClain theorized that the intruder may have been startled when he came upon the woman, or his mask may have slipped as he entered the room and he feared being recognized.
Vietnamese families throughout large Southeast Asian refugee communities like those in Orange County and Los Angeles have been targets of similar robberies, in which young, masked Vietnamese gunmen storm into a house, demand cash and valuables, and occasionally leave wounded victims behind, police say.
The robbers, traveling in loosely organized gangs, often target members of their own community because they are more inclined to keep valuables in their homes and because they often are afraid to report the crimes, police say.
The perpetrators are difficult to track because they are so mobile, often traveling to other refugee communities all over North America, McClain said.
Early Monday morning in San Jose, for example, police were called to a Vietnamese residence after a 27-year-old woman was shot by a band of young masked Vietnamese.
The three men had stormed their way into the home and demanded money of a 17-year-old girl who was at home with five young children. Hue Thi Nguyen came home when the men were still there and was then tied up and shot in the leg, said San Jose police spokeswoman Astrid Burke.
She was admitted for treatment to San Jose Hospital.