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Fontana Man Kills Daughter, 5, Then Himself

The divorced father reportedly had high debts. It is the third such incident in recent days involving members of the Korean community.

April 11, 2006|Ashley Powers | Times Staff Writer

A 40-year-old man of Korean descent shot and killed his young daughter and then himself Saturday at his Fontana home, a tragedy similar to two recent incidents in Los Angeles involving Korean American fathers who police say killed family members.

Bong Joo Lee's relatives told police that he had been unemployed for some time and might have racked up as much as $200,000 in gambling debt, said Fontana Police Sgt. William Megenney.

Lee was apparently worried that he would lose both his home and contact with his 5-year-old daughter, Iris Araa Lee, who lived with her mother in Upland, police said.

The couple were divorced, and Lee had pleaded no contest in September 2004 to a misdemeanor count of spousal battery, according to police and court records.

"It's a tragedy all the way around," Megenney said. "The little girl doesn't get the rest of her life, and the mother lives with this the rest of hers."

According to police and coroner reports, this is what occurred:

Lee picked up his daughter Saturday afternoon with plans to take her to dinner, though investigators are unsure if they ever made it to a restaurant.

When he and Iris did not return to Upland as scheduled, Iris' mother and other family members went to Lee's house, in the 15400 block of American Way in Fontana.

In the master bedroom, they found Iris and her father on a bed. He had shot her at least three times in the upper body with a 9-millimeter semiautomatic and then shot himself in the head. They were pronounced dead about 8:50 p.m.

"Who knows what the last straw was, what made him do this," Megenney said.

The murder-suicide and two similar incidents this month have caused great concern among some in Southern California's Korean community.

"It's shocking; it's heartbreaking," said Susan Lee of the Hanmi Family Counseling Center in Garden Grove. "It is a coincidence, but it reflects the level of stress and desperation of some people in the community."

Johng Ho Song, executive director of the Koreatown Youth and Community Center in Los Angeles, said he wondered whether the publicity of the earlier deaths led others to imitate them.

"I'd have to say it's a coincidence, but I don't know if the newspaper articles are inspiring others in similar situations," he said.

On April 2, Los Angeles police officials said Dae Kwon Yun splashed fuel inside his Toyota Sequoia before setting it ablaze in downtown Los Angeles with himself and his two children inside.

The sport utility vehicle was burned to its frame, and his children, Ashley, 11, and Alexander, 10, died.

Yun, 54, was under financial strain, closing his family's T-shirt and tank top manufacturing business about two weeks before the incident and reportedly living in his car, friends said.

His wife, Sun Ok Ma, had told friends that she and Yun had recently separated and that he was also upset over a gambling debt. In 2004, Yun had pleaded guilty to assaulting his wife.

On Sunday, police found the bodies of a 55-year-old Korean man in Echo Park who they said had killed his wife and 8-year-old son before shooting himself. He also shot his 16-year-old daughter in the head, though she is in stable condition and expected to survive, police said.

In Upland, family friends gathered at the home of Lee's former wife. A woman who answered the door declined to comment.

Jessica Street, a family friend who lives in Rialto, said Lee had acted odd since the divorce but that he had done nothing to indicate he was suicidal.

Street said Iris Lee was a playful child who spoke both Korean and English.

The girl had attended the afternoon kindergarten class at Pepper Tree Elementary School, where teachers said she was among the class' top students and her mother was a volunteer, said the Upland Unified School District's superintendent.

*

Times staff writer Lance Pugmire and researcher Scott Wilson contributed to this report.

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