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Teenager Stabbed to Death; Neighbor Is Held

Violence: Laguna Hills 17-year-old identified suspect before dying. Large knife found at scene.

July 31, 2001|MAI TRAN and DAVID HALDANE | TIMES STAFF WRITERS

A Laguna Hills teenager died early Monday after being stabbed several times in his driveway, and a 20-year-old neighbor was arrested shortly afterward, police said.

Before he died at the hospital, Kenneth Chiu, 17, told police that his assailant was his next-door neighbor, Christopher Charles Hearn, 20. Officers found Hearn on his own front porch. A large knife was recovered at the scene.

Late Monday, Hearn was being held at the Orange County Jail in Santa Ana on suspicion of murder and could be arraigned as early as today, said Sgt. Steve Doan, a spokesman for the Orange County Sheriff's Department.

Throughout the afternoon, neighbors stopped at the Chiu home to express condolences and leave flowers.

"Everyone is so shocked," said neighbor Delson Ting, who has lived for 10 years in the neighborhood along Woodbluff Road, where Mediterranean-style homes with three-car garages, palm trees and manicured lawns sell for $750,000. "You don't expect it," he said. "It's just kind of sad."

Investigators questioned Hearn, who is deaf and unable to speak, through a sign language interpreter.

Hearn graduated in 1999 from a program at University High School in Irvine for students who are deaf or who have hearing impairments, authorities said.

The attack occurred about midnight as Chiu returned home from visiting a friend, investigators said. Chiu was pronounced dead about 1:15 a.m. at Mission Hospital Regional Medical Center.

Investigators found a racial epithet scratched onto a car at the scene and are investigating whether the attack might have been racially motivated. The car belongs to the Chiu family. Doan said it was not clear how long the scratch had been on the vehicle.

Police and neighbors described Hearn as a troubled young man. Hearn's family could not be reached for comment, and nobody answered the door or the telephone at his home.

Neighbor Leslie Martin, 45, said of Christopher Hearn, "He's just pure anger." About a year ago, Martin said, Hearn walked by her frontyard, raised his arm to her in a threatening gesture and punched her mailbox until it fell to the ground.

"He's a violent person," she said. "He walked around the neighborhood a lot and couldn't control his impulses. He's very erratic."

Police said they have answered at least two calls to the Hearn residence, once when the young man threatened his father with a hammer and another time when he had vandalized the family home. Neither incident resulted in an arrest.

A young man who described himself as a longtime friend said Monday that Hearn can be volatile. "He's not racial, and he's not bothered by being deaf and mute," said Matt, 20, who would not give his last name.

He said he has known Hearn since seventh grade and went to a movie with him Saturday night. "If you don't know him, though, he can have a temper," the friend said.

Other neighbors said Hearn and Chiu had been next-door neighbors for several years, but were not friends.

At Laguna Hills High School, where Chiu would have been a senior this fall, the mood was somber Monday as word of the stabbing spread. Chiu was remembered as a good student and a member of the varsity golf team.

"All I can tell you is that it's an absolute tragedy," said Laura Ott, the school's assistant principal of guidance. "I knew Kenny. He was a good boy and a good student who was always courteous and respectful. . . . I'm still very numb."

Times staff photographer Don Kelsen contributed to this report.

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