Debi So was putting her newborn daughter to sleep shortly after 12 a.m. on New Year's Day when she heard gunshots.
"It was New Year's," she said. "You hear fireworks, you hear gunshots, but I didn't think anything of it."
Minutes later So's aunt, who lives next door, banged on the family's apartment door. She told So to check on her sister, who was lying in the street near her car.
"The car door was open, and I saw her in the light from inside," said So, 22. "I went to look and told her to get up, and that's when I saw she was shot, she was bleeding. Then I saw that she was lying on her boyfriend, her hair was covering his face, and when I saw him, I knew he was gone. He was already gone."
So's sister Vannaly Tim, 24, and Tim's boyfriend Sarith Em, a 25-year-old Army veteran of Iraq and Afghanistan, lived in the Long Beach apartment along with Tim's 6-year-old son, Adam. The couple had gone outside minutes before to move their white Honda Accord because they thought the street sweeper was going to come by and feared they would get a ticket. That's when So heard the shots.
She said the car was riddled with bullets. "I didn't think my sister and her boyfriend would be the ones getting shot," she said. Tim died later at a hospital.
On Friday, police were searching for the couple's killer and any clues to a motive for the slayings.
"We're just trying to figure out why anyone would want to do that to two people who, from everything we've been able to figure out so far, were good people, a family and well-liked by all their neighbors and family," said Cmdr. Laura Farinella of the Long Beach Police Department.
Investigators have no indication the homicides were gang-related, Farinella said.
"You almost expect this sort of behavior from gang members, but it's even worse to think that someone could have done this with no gang-territorial motivation or anything like that," she said. "It's heartbreaking."
Detectives are uncertain if the shooter was in a car or on foot, Farinella said. So far no witnesses have come forward, she said.
"We really need someone from the community who saw something to step up and help us figure this out," she said. "We think there were some partygoers in the area, and we're hoping there's someone who saw something, anything, that could be related to this to help us out."
So said Tim and Em had just celebrated their four-year anniversary and Adam's birthday in December.
The three shared a bedroom in the apartment in the 1800 block of Gardenia Avenue, where Tim's parents and grandmother also live, So said. Tim's family has lived in the apartment more than 15 years, she said.
On Friday, friends and family gathered at the apartment for a Buddhist ritual for the dead. Outside, in the space where the couple were gunned down, a memorial of candles, flowers and photos rested against a tree near the sidewalk. One of the bullets hit a nearby tree, leaving a nick of fresh wood behind.
Food was included in the memorial to feed the couple's spirits, which Buddhists believe linger at the place of death until a monk guides the bodies to burial, said Lisa Tim, one of Tim's aunts. The couple's favorite drinks were also placed at the memorial: Pepsi and Coke for Tim and beer, along with Marlboro cigarettes, for Em.
Inside, four monks in orange robes sat against a wall and led elders in prayer. Younger family members and friends cooked food, picked up and dropped off loved ones, made funeral arrangements and consoled one another.
There were tears and lots of questions.
"Sarith, he was my fishing buddy," said Sak Thongdy, who is married to one of Tim's cousins. "He fought in Iraq and Afghanistan for three tours just to come back to this? He fought for his country, and he was proud of that, and now this? It makes no sense."
The couple were in love, family and friends said. Both Em and Tim went to Wilson High School but didn't start dating until 2004. "He had a crush on her even back then," So said.
Em worked at a box-making factory and Tim at Macy's in the Lakewood Center mall, So said.
Tim had worked at the store three years, transferring a year ago to the men's shoe department, said friend and co-worker Elizabeth Panuco.
"She was a loving and caring mom," Panuco said. "She was thoughtful and a very nice friend."
In a text message to Panuco, Tim wrote: "Happy New Year's, be safe, and if you need a ride I'll pick you up."
Minutes later, Panuco said, she got a call from Tim's sister about the shooting. "I told myself, 'She's fine. I'm not going to cry,' " Panuco said.
But when she walked into the store Thursday, Panuco said, she found a co-worker sobbing.
"I looked at her and said, 'It's not true,' " she said.
Anyone with information is asked to call the Long Beach Police Department's Homicide Unit at (562) 570-7244.
Times staff writer Ruben Vives contributed to this report.