Five Children Killed In Schoolyard Shooting Remembered At Memorial Service
STOCKTON, Calif. (AP) _ More than 2,000 people attended a Buddhist-Christian memorial service Monday conducted in four languages for five immigrant children killed in last week’s schoolyard shooting.
State officials, including Gov. George Deukmejian, told the many Southeast Asian immigrants in the audience that the shooting was not believed to be racially motivated and that they should not question their decision to come to the United States.
Eulogies were recited in Cambodian, Vietnamese, Laotian and English before mourners who wore white and black ribbons honoring the cultural traditions of the victims’ refugee families.
Sokhim An, 6, Oeun Lim, 8, Ram Chun, 8, Rathanan Or, 9, and Thuy Tran, 6, were slain during recess Jan. 17 at Cleveland Elementary School by a gunman wielding a semiautomatic assault rifle. The man committed suicide after the attack.
The ceremony at Stockton Civic Auditorium began with funeral services for all but Thuy Tran, who was buried Saturday. Twelve orange-robed monks from the Cambodian Buddhist Temple in Stockton chanted for 15 minutes and the Stockton Chorale sang before Baptist ministers led a brief service.
The ceremony concluded with five minutes of silence interrupted only by the reading of each child’s name and the ringing of a tiny bell every 60 seconds.
″Five minutes for five children ... May they rest in peace and may God bless their families and friends,″ said Vu-Duc Vuong of the Center for Southeast Asian Resettlement, who conducted most of the ceremony.
The families of Oeun and Rathanan are Buddhist, while those of Sokhim and Ram are Baptist. The Tran family is Catholic, but attended Monday’s service. An hourlong community memorial service for all five children followed, with addresses by Deukmejian, Attorney General John Van de Kamp, state schools Superintendent Bill Honig and Stockton Mayor Barbara Fass.
Addressing Cambodian-Americans in the audience, Deukmejian noted the war- torn country they had fled and assured them that the shootings were an aberration.
″This state is filled with people of good will and brotherly love who cherish our diversity,″ he said. ″The overwhelming majority of the people of California are good and caring and compassionate.
″You do not grieve alone,″ he added. ″Your sorrow is our sorrow. Your pain is our pain. This terrible tragedy has shocked and greatly saddened the people of this state.″
Van de kamp said he was there ″to grieve with the parents, pray for the children and vow to do everything in our power to see that this never happens again.″
Honig urged the victims’ families not to give up on America as a place of peace and opportunity.
Sprays of yellow and white flowers covered the four small closed caskets at the front of the auditorium. Five 20-by-30-inch portrait photographs of the children sat above 35 floral pieces. Flags of pre-Communist Cambodian and Vietnamese governments hung above the stage.
About 70 percent of Cleveland Elementary students are from Southeast Asian refugees families. San Joaquin County is home to about 37,000 immigrants from Vietnam, Cambodia and Laos.
Police have said they may never know why 24-year-old Patrick Edward Purdy fired more than 100 rounds from an AK-47 semiautomatic assault rifle outside the grade school he once attended, then killed himself.
Twenty-nine students and a teacher were injured. Eight children and the teacher, Janet Geng, remained hospitalized.