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Quiet and Hard-Working, Man Gave No Hint of Deadly Rampage

September 30, 1993|VICKI TORRES | TIMES STAFF WRITER

POMONA — On Tuesday, funeral services were held for Nam Tran, the jilted Pomona man who authorities say took his own life last week after killing three others and wounding two in the home of his estranged girlfriend.

The funeral at a Los Angeles mortuary was a simple affair: no priest and only 10 people present. A woman wept. A child, unaware of the solemnity, giggled.

Then it was over.

The service reflected Tran's spare life. Living apart from his parents, who still live in Vietnam, Tran, 21, shared a room with his younger brother, worked a 12-hour night shift at a machine shop, fixed old cars for resale and, occasionally, went out with his girlfriend.

A dependable, quiet, even-tempered young man, he gave no hint to those who knew him of the murderous passion that would inflame him, prompting him to abruptly quit his job a week before and to apparently steal a gun from a neighbor's car before heading out to his girlfriend's home to confront her last Thursday.

Those who worked with Tran for more than a year say the narrow life he led may explain why he might not have been able to cope with the rejection.

"He couldn't have had much of a social life," said Gregory Lange, 30, owner of Lange Precision, the Fullerton machine shop that employed him. "All his life just revolved around that girlfriend."

By contrast, Hijen Bich Quach, 18, Tran's girlfriend, enjoyed a full family life with both of her parents, six brothers and sisters, in-laws and numerous cousins living in Pomona and Inglewood.

The couple met at Ganesha High School in Pomona and dated for more than two years, Quach family members said. But they say they knew little about Tran.

"I met him a couple of times to say, 'Hi, how are you. What's your name?' " said Hijen's brother, Huong Quach, 33. "But I don't know if she and Nam were in love.

The Quach family came to the United States more than 10 years ago in three separate groups via boat, according to Hijen's sister, Hanh.

But Tran's family could manage to send only three people to the United States: Tran and his brother, Viet, now 18, along with an older sister.

The parents remained behind in Saigon while their three children began adjusting to a different way of life here six years ago.

After high school, Tran took college computer classes, enough to gain an entry-level job 15 months ago at Lange Precision. Within six months, he was earning about $800 a week with overtime pay from the 12-hour shift at a computer-controlled milling machine, Lange said. When work was slow at the shop, Tran switched to days, a break from his 5 p.m. to 5 a.m. shift.

"He never missed a day," the owner said. "He was one of the best guys around, a hard worker, quiet, never complained."

When their older sister married, the Tran brothers moved into a house in the 700 block of Fernleaf Avenue, a block-long Pomona enclave of Vietnamese families who stretch their scarce money by planting vegetable gardens in the front yards of their small, rented houses. The two brothers shared one bedroom in a tiny house while Lam Luong, 30, and her three small children took the other bedroom.

"He lived like one of the poor guys on his block, but he could have lived quite well," Lange said.

Lange said Tran also earned money by buying old cars and fixing them up with body work and a coat of paint for resale. Tran spoke little about his personal life to his co-workers, but often talked of his dream of owning his own business, any type of business, Lange said.

Viet Tran said his brother regularly sent money home to his parents and had saved money to open a nail salon with his girlfriend.

A month ago, the hard-working Tran began paying Luong $100 a month to cook for him, Luong said. The frail-looking young man, 5 feet, 5 inches tall and 110 pounds, would come home exhausted from his job and hungry, she said.

"Everything I cooked, he ate it all, but he didn't say anything," Luong said.

When the breakup with Hijen occurred two months ago, Tran, not surprisingly, said nothing to his co-workers, roommate or brother, they all said.

Lange said he was startled one Friday when Tran came to work and announced that day would be his last. He told Lange he had found a job in Oregon and wanted to be near relatives there, Lange said.

Instead, the young man hung around his house for a week. He was outwardly calm and said nothing to his roommates about his job, or his disappointment with the failed relationship.

The only possible hint of what was to come was a report made to police the day before the shooting. One of Tran's neighbors told officers that his .380-caliber semiautomatic pistol had been stolen from his car.

Police now say Tran had the gun with him when he went to his girlfriend's house at 9:20 p.m. last Thursday and began arguing with her. In the midst of the argument, police said, he opened fire inside the home, killing Hijen's mother, Bui Thi Ban, 56, and two brothers, Hien Quach, 22, and Mike Quach, 35.

Phong Quach, 59, the girl's father, was wounded, as was Hijen, 18, who ran down the street to a convenience store, where she was again shot by Tran, officers said. Afterward, the young man returned to the Quach home and killed himself with a bullet to the head.

Hijen Quach remains hospitalized in serious condition, said Huong Quach. Phong Quach's condition was upgraded Wednesday from serious to fair. His sister is unable to talk because of hospital breathing tubes but his father is in a deep depression, Huong said. His father told a nurse that he doesn't want to live, the son said.

"It's too much for my family," Huong said. "Three people dead and two people in the hospital. That's too much."

Funeral services for the slain Quach family members are scheduled for 8:30 this morning in Todd Memorial Chapel, Pomona. Burial will follow at Forest Lawn Memorial-Park, Covina Hills.

Meanwhile, the A. Chau Funeral Home in Los Angeles has tagged Tran's cremated remains for shipment to Saigon.

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