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Walnut church recalls four young members

Those killed Friday in a Pomona car crash were well-liked and active in their congregation.

April 13, 2008|Anna Gorman | Times Staff Writer

While Kim Lundell was studying religion in the United States, her teenage son in South Korea drowned. His death prompted her to start a church for young Koreans in Los Angeles County.

Walnut Blessing Church of the Nazarene became just that, with high school and college students making up about 70% of the roughly 100 congregants. Many are recent immigrants whose parents are divorced and work long hours at low-wage jobs.

"The church is their home," Lundell said. "We clothe them, we feed them, we protect them."

On Friday, the church lost four of those members in a car accident in Pomona. The young men -- Richard Kim, 21, Kevin Na, 19, Daniel Kim, 18, and David Chung, 16 -- were part of a caravan on its way to a youth group event at an ice-skating rink. A fifth -- Kevin's brother, Stanley Na, 16 -- survived and was in stable condition late Saturday, one of his pastors said.

California Highway Patrol officers said the accident occurred at 10:45 a.m. when their Toyota Camry swerved on the 60 Freeway and crashed into a concrete divider. Church leaders said Kevin Na, who was driving, had been speeding to catch up with the other cars.

"This devastated me," Lundell said. "I loved them."

On Saturday, relatives and friends of the young men came to the church. They made funeral arrangements and consoled one another over bean sprout soup and tea. Later, the church held a memorial service for the youths.

Families are still making plans for the funeral service and burial, which will take place this week.

All four were very involved in the church -- attending services on Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays and often stopping by the home of the youth pastor, Lundell's daughter Grace Kim. As part of the youth group, they went on special trips to the beach, the mountains and amusement parks.

Grace Kim, who was driving one of the other cars on the way to the ice rink, said that her son and the other young men were close friends and that she had long discussions about faith and family with each of them.

"We grew together," she said, crying. "We suffered together. We had fun together."

Richard Kim, who came to the U.S. about seven years ago, attended Mt. San Antonio College in Walnut and worked part-time at a Korean restaurant. But his passion was the bass guitar, which he played in the church band.

He was the oldest of three children and wanted to open a Christian music school. The pastors said he was often goofy but took his spirituality seriously, helping guide younger members in the church.

His father, Woo Suk Kim, said he wished his son hadn't had to work to help support the family.

"I feel so sorry," he said through a Korean translator. "It's sad that he has to go without realizing his dream."

The younger three boys attended Walnut High School, where they often played basketball together on the weekends.

David Chung had been in trouble for fighting when he was in middle school but had grown out of that in recent years and wanted to become a missionary, his pastors said.

His father, Kyung Chung, said his son worked hard in school and helped around the house. The youth, who had one sister, recently started playing piano and was taking an orchestra class at school.

Daniel Kim, who dyed his hair various colors and liked to play video games, had immigrated to the U.S. only a few years ago and didn't speak much English. He was quiet and respectful -- an only child whose parents were divorced, the pastors said.

Kevin Na came to the church a few years ago and focused his energy on being a sound engineer. He and his brother Stanley made church the center of their social and spiritual lives, their pastors said.

Grace Kim said all four young men were trying to make sense of their lives as they watched their parents struggle as immigrants and sought a better future for themselves.

"I know that God is fair," she said. "But life is not fair. They were all good kids. I don't say this because they died. I know them."

Donations to the victims' families can be made in care of Walnut Blessing Church of the Nazarene, 20801 La Puente Road, Walnut, CA 91789.

--

anna.gorman@latimes.com

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