The industrial area of Santa Fe Springs became a place of gunfire and death for the second time this month when an Orange County man returned Friday to the embroidery firm from which he had recently been fired, shooting and critically wounding his former business partner before killing the man's sister and finally himself, officials said.
Angered by his fall from grace at Yoonimex Inc., Soon Byung Park walked into Edward Yoon's office with a handgun shortly before 11 a.m. Friday, police said.
Officers said he fired at Yoon, 46, who was sitting behind his desk, striking him in the back, then turned and blocked the path of Yoon's sister, Mee Hwa Hong, as she tried to flee.
"She got down on her knees in front of the suspect and he shot her execution-style," once in the chest and once in the back of the head, Whittier Police Officer Chuck Drylie said.
Park, 36, went outside, emptied his spent rounds, reloaded his .38-caliber revolver and drove his car to a nearby company building, investigators said. He walked inside and, as a worker ran from him, shot himself in the head.
The scene was painfully similar to last week's shooting at another Santa Fe Springs plant, Omni Plastics, where a factory inspector killed two colleagues and wounded four others because he thought co-workers were taunting him. Daniel S. Marsden, 38, later turned the gun on himself in front of stunned onlookers on a South-Central Los Angeles corner and fatally shot himself.
"Everybody's saying, 'Same city, what's going on?' " Drylie said. "This is something highly unusual. The reasons are different. They could have happened miles apart, cities apart. . . . It is a tragedy, and I have no explanation for it."
Outside a warehouse in the industrial complex where Friday's shooting took place, Dorothy Rietkerk nervously smoked a cigarette, flanked by a dozen other employees. "Everybody's scared," said the receiving clerk, noting that the complex was the scene of still another shooting rampage three years ago.
"We're to the point where we're wondering if we should get come-back pay," she said, questioning if it was safe to return to work.
Another worker, Lamont Spence, 34, said he has noticed that people have started to look at the door when someone walks in: "You start to wonder if someone is going to come in and blow you away."
Police said Park helped Yoon found the firm, also known as U.S. Embroidery Co., about four years ago, and at some point lived in Yoon's home in Aliso Viejo. In recent months, however, the partnership had soured.
Problems with Park's performance apparently prompted Yoon, the owner, to demote Park and transfer him to the firm's second building in the complex, investigators said. About a month ago, Park was fired.
"He was on the outs, no job, no money," Drylie said. "He notices his business partner had a new car, a new house. They started out evenly and now they weren't."
George Dalou, a salesman with the company who returned to the plant shortly after the shooting, said Park had threatened violence after he was fired.
"When they laid him off, he went to a family member of the owner and said he would come back, kill the owner and commit suicide. And he did it," Dalou said incredulously.
Last month, a company official filed a report with Whittier police, who handle crimes in Santa Fe Springs, stating that Park had been threatening to hurt employees and might kill himself. But Lt. David Carlisle said police had been unable to locate Park.
The company official knew that Park lived with a teenage son, but did not know how to get in touch with him. "In hindsight, we wish we would have had some way to find this guy and prevent this problem," Carlisle said.
Susan Lang, who at one time worked for the company, said Park was a quiet man who immigrated to the United States in 1993 and spoke little English. Lang said she and Park worked together at Yoon's Orange County plant before he moved the business to Santa Fe Springs.
Park was unhappy because of problems with his marriage, Lang said. His wife lives in Korea.
Dalou described Park, who he said had earned $6,500 a month at the firm, as "a good man."
"His problem was that he was an alcoholic," Dalou said.
"This world is so scary. You don't know who you're talking to," said Dalou, who added that the firm had recently hired a security guard to patrol the plant at night, but not during the day.
Hong, Yoon's slain sister, moved to Orange County from Chicago in 1993, was divorced and had no children, Lang said. Hong worked as a receptionist at Yoon's business.
Dalou called Yoon "the best," saying that he encouraged his employees and paid them well. "I would never find a boss like him," Dalou said.
Yoon, who Dalou said has two teenage children, was airlifted to Harbor-UCLA Medical Center in Torrance, where he was in serious but stable condition after four hours of surgery to remove a bullet and repair organ damage, said Dr. Bruce E. Stabile, chief of the hospital's department of surgery.