The teens first heard the news Monday afternoon like most others in nearby neighborhoods, on TV: Six people had been shot at an auto accessories store in Garden Grove. Intrigued, they drove to the familiar Robotek store, where some of their friends had turned ordinary sedans into ornate urban chariots.
They didn't remain casual observers for long.
"Oh, man," said one of the teens, 18-year-old Tri Dang. "That's Tony's car."
And there, jutting awkwardly from under a police tarp, were Tung Xuan "Tony" Ngo's blue-and-white sneakers with orange laces. Ngo, 18, of Fountain Valley, a recent Bolsa Grande High graduate with an acceptance letter from UC Davis in hand and a bright future ahead of him, was dead.
His close friend, Han Vo, was shot and injured. The two were trying to spend time together over the summer before they headed off to different colleges. They had been friends since they were 8, said Henry Vo, whose son was spared death when a bullet sliced through the front of his neck. They initially planned to attend college together. But Tony picked UC Davis--too far from home for Han, who chose nearby UC Riverside.
"I don't know why [this happened]," Henry Vo said. "I don't know why."
Ngo was shot to death in the driver's seat of his car, according to Kevin Lee, the owner of a nearby auto repair shop. Though police disclosed few details about the shootings, there was no evidence late Monday that Ngo was anything but a random victim.
"I have no idea what might have happened," Vu Le, 18, Tony Ngo's friend and schoolmate, said via cellular phone as he was on his way to the hospital. "I saw it on the news, and I just ran over there. And then I saw his car."
The dark-eyed, lanky Ngo wasn't a rabid car enthusiast, but he liked to gaze at car parts occasionally and dreamed of souping up his 1993 four-door Honda Accord. The trip to Robotek was in honor of his 18th birthday.
"He was one of the nicest guys, very innocent," said Dang, who was waiting at UCI Medical Center in Orange to hear about the condition of Han Vo, 17. "There's no reason why somebody would shoot him."
The teens' haphazard discovery compounded the afternoon's chaos.
Ngo's friends raced to his aunt's home, Le said. There, they apparently called a Vietnamese restaurant off Brookhurst Street that is run by Ngo's family. Le told Ngo's mother, Kim Anh Tran, that they feared Tony had been involved in the shooting. After frantically trying to page her son or get through on his cellular phone, Ngo's mother rushed to Robotek herself.
There, she begged police to let her see the body under the tarp. Officers refused.
"She wanted to identify the body, but police wouldn't let her," Ngo's uncle, Gary Nguyen, said. "They said it would jeopardize the investigation at this point."
Eventually, even without seeing her son's body, the mother knew the truth.
"He's a good kid," she cried before collapsing in tears, slumped against the door of a neighboring Jiffy Lube. "He never got involved in gangs."
At one point, the mother began suffering heart palpitations and had to lean against her niece for support. Hours later, Ngo's father and grandfather arrived at the shooting scene to identify the teen from photographs provided by police.
Ngo was a "B+" student who graduated with a 3.5 grade-point average, said Alan Trudell, a spokesman for the Garden Grove Unified School District. High school officials described Ngo as a "strong academic student."
"He's so smart," said Le, still referring to his friend of three years in the present tense.
Another victim, Edward "Eddie" Kim of Garden Grove, was being treated for wounds to the abdomen and back. He plays volleyball and video games with equal vigor and plans to attend Golden West College, said co-worker Tara Rotz, 16.
"He's funny, really friendly," said Rotz, who said Kim started working at Southern Hills Golfland on Beach Boulevard this summer. "He's just this outgoing guy."
A fan of the "Dance Dance Revolution" and "Streetfighter" video games, Kim played volleyball at Bolsa Grande High and now helps coach the team.
An only child, who had recently dyed his black hair a medium brown, Kim gave Rotz a ride home after work Sunday night. He spoke of driving to Los Angeles in search of a CD player for his early '90s Honda Accord.
"I just want to see him back at work," she said.
Charlie Kim, whose owns Robotek with his wife and lives in Diamond Bar, also was critically wounded in the shooting. Charlie and Eddie Kim are not related.
Kim's neighbors said he worked hard but never skimped on spending time with his two young sons, ages 9 and 10.
"The father is just great," said neighbor Michelle Lee, 17. "He just liked to spend a lot of time with [the boys]. They would ride bikes and go swimming all the time. He's really nice."
Several Robotek customers said Kim sells quality, expensive products. A set of wheels, one said, could cost $4,000.
"He doesn't sell junk," said Paul Ybarra, who recently purchased a suspension kit for his Honda from Kim. "The stuff he sells is all high-end, top-of-the-line. You don't go in there to browse unless you can afford to buy."
Times staff writers Janet Wilson, H.G. Reza, Brady MacDonald and Phil Willon and correspondent Jason Kandel contributed to this report.