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Neighbor Held in Stabbing

Violence: Laguna Hills teenager identified suspect before dying of his injuries.

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.

Investigators questioned Hearn, who is deaf and cannot speak, through a sign language interpreter.

"Everyone is so shocked," said Delson Ting, a 10-year resident of the upscale neighborhood along Woodbluff Road, where Mediterranean-style homes with three-car garages sell for $750,000.

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.

Police 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 Chiu's father, who is Asian American. Sheriff's Sgt. Steve Doan said it was not clear how long the scratch had been on the vehicle.

Police and neighbors described Hearn, a 1999 graduate of a program at University High School in Irvine for deaf and hard-of-hearing students, as a troubled young man.

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

Other neighbors said Hearn and Chiu had been 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 among administrators and students at summer school. They shared memories of a young man who was a good student and a member of the boys varsity golf team.

"All I can tell you is that it's an absolute tragedy," said Laura Ott, assistant principal of guidance. "I knew Kenny. He was a good boy and a good student who was always courteous and respectful. I couldn't believe the news when I heard it. I'm still very numb."

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, Doan said.

*

Times staff photographer Don Kelson contributed to this story.

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