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The Daughter

Her father shot them all. She was the only one who lived. And she forgave him.

October 29, 2006|Erika Hayasaki | Erika Hayasaki is a Times staff writer.

She blinked and wondered how long she had been asleep. She saw the Chanel ads and Vogue magazine pages taped to her white walls. She blinked again. Her head pounded. She saw the photos of her high school friends tacked to a bulletin board. Bin Na looked up at her twin bed. Why, she wondered, was she on the floor? Why was her head throbbing?

It was Saturday, April 8, 2006, but Bin Na Kim did not know it. All she could remember was the day before--her last day of school before spring break at the Los Angeles Center for Enriched Studies. Bin Na, a 16-year-old sophomore, had eaten lunch with friends in her math classroom. She could not stop talking about New York. She would fly out the next evening with a classmate. They would tour New York University. They had tickets for "Chicago," the Broadway musical. Bin Na had arranged to borrow her best friend's gray peacoat.

Now, on her bedroom floor, Bin Na worried. Could it be Saturday already? What time was it? If this was Saturday, then she had to pack. Her flight was at 10 p.m.

Get up, she told herself. She lifted her head less than an inch. The pain knocked her back down. It felt like someone was squeezing her skull, trying to crush it. Her eyes watered. She looked at the white carpet and saw glistening puddles of blood. Bin Na thought she must have gotten her period.

Get up. She tried again. Her head hurt like nothing she had ever felt. Bin Na wailed. Something must be very wrong, she thought. She had to let her parents know she was hurt.

"Matthew!" she called, for her 8-year-old brother.

His bedroom was next to hers. She would tell him to find their parents. Or find the acupuncturist who lived in the apartment next door. The acupuncturist might know what was wrong with her head.

"Matthew!"

No answer.

She called his name again. Still nothing.

"O-ma!" "O-pa!" Mom! Dad!

Only silence.

Again, Bin Na tried to move. Half her body would not budge. Her left arm and left leg sagged as if they were broken. Her cellphone was in its charger, on the floor near her head. She grabbed it with her right hand to dial her parents' number. She could not hear it ringing. She moaned and hung up. She reached for a floor lamp. Wrapping her fingers around its long neck, she tried to pull with her right hand and push with her right foot. Balancing on her right side, she heaved her body up. She stood, bent over, for a second. Then she dropped. Bin Na tried again. Push. Pull. Push. Pull. The lamp toppled, crashing onto her aching head.

Maybe her parents were asleep. Maybe they could not hear her cries. Their bedroom was on the north side of the family's apartment. Bin Na's room was on the south side. A hallway and a living room separated them. Bin Na rolled onto her stomach. She had to get to her parents. She had to let them know something was wrong. Using only her right arm and leg, Bin Na began to crawl.

--

. . . people said bad things, how he didn't love me. They don't know my dad. That's why I want them to interview me so people know what really happened and can know what he was really like instead of just assuming things . . . my dad is not a bad person.

-Bin Na's journal

--

Gray peacoat in hand, Deborah Kim waited on Saturday morning at Praise Church of the Nazarene near Wilshire Center. Bin Na and Deborah had been friends since they were 2 years old. Their families both joined Praise Church. They spent Christmas and New Year's Eve together. The girls celebrated their birthdays together. They were like sisters.

Bin Na adored Deborah, a pretty girl with a big personality. Bin Na was pretty too. She spent hours playing with her long, layered hair. She loved shopping for clothes that fit her slender shape. But when Bin Na met new people, she rarely spoke or smiled. They probably figured she was rude, she thought. Really, she was shy.

Bin Na loved her father. Sang Kim left Korea in 1990 to live in Los Angeles, where he invested in real estate. He was generous. He took Bin Na and Deborah to Disneyland. He took them to Toys R Us and bought them Barbie dolls. Deborah envied Bin Na. Her father gave her everything she wanted. But Bin Na longed for a father like Deborah's, who hugged his daughter and told her that he loved her. Sometimes, Bin Na would say to Deborah, "I wish your dad was my dad."

Every Saturday, Bin Na took lessons in Korean language and history at Korean school, where her mother, Young Ok Kim, was a teacher. Just before Bin Na turned 8, her mother gave birth to Matthew. He grew into a slight boy, softhearted and sensitive. He cried easily and drew pictures of hearts instead of guns. Bin Na's father did not believe boys should cry. Sang Kim was a proud man, and crying was shameful. "Why are you crying?" he would demand. "Stop." Pride and shame were very important to Bin Na's father. She noticed this about him and about some of the other Korean fathers in her community.

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