AP NEWS

Police: Home in California backyard shooting was targeted

November 19, 2019 GMT
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Fresno police investigators work the driveway where a shooting took place at a house party which involved multiple fatalities and injuries in Fresno, Calif., Monday, Nov. 18, 2019. (AP Photo/Gary Kazanjian)
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Fresno police investigators work the driveway where a shooting took place at a house party which involved multiple fatalities and injuries in Fresno, Calif., Monday, Nov. 18, 2019. (AP Photo/Gary Kazanjian)

FRESNO, Calif. (AP) — Two men with semiautomatic handguns targeted a backyard gathering of family and friends in Fresno, spraying bullets that killed four men and wounded six other people before the assailants disappeared into the darkness, police said Monday.

Authorities did not identify any suspects or motive for the Sunday evening attack at the home of a Hmong family. The gunmen entered through an open gate on the side of the house and immediately began shooting randomly into a group of about 16 men gathered to watch football on television, Fresno Police Chief Andrew Hall said.

“It does not appear that they were targeting any individuals, and once they fired, they fled,” Hall said. All the shooting occurred outside, and none of the women and children inside were harmed.

The shooters did not speak, and in the darkness no one reported getting a good look at them. Witnesses saw only flashes when the pistols were fired, Hall said.

Police were investigating whether the shooting was connected to a recent “disturbance” involving some of the people at the party, Hall said. He did not describe the incident other than to say it occurred within the last week.

It was the third mass shooting in four days in California.

Last Thursday, a 16-year-old student at a high school in the Los Angeles suburb of Santa Clarita shot and killed two classmates and wounded three others before shooting himself in the head. He died the next day.

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On Saturday, police in San Diego said a husband shot and killed his wife and three of their sons before killing himself. A fourth son was wounded and on life support.

The Fresno shooting occurred in a section of the city with a large Hmong population and claimed the lives of Xy Lee, 23; Phia Vang, 31; Kou Xiong, 38; and Kalaxang Thao, 40, all of Fresno, according to the coroner’s office. Three others remained hospitalized Monday in serious condition, Community Regional Medical Center said in a statement.

Pao Yang, CEO of the Fresno Center, a Hmong community group, said two of the victims were well-known Hmong performers, including a man who sang for mental health clients monthly. He said community elders have reached out to the center for help in the wake of the violence.

“Our community is in mourning, and we still don’t know what’s going on, or who are the suspects,” he said.

Xy Lee was an accomplished Hmong singer and musician, and his videos on YouTube have been viewed millions of times.

The Hmong are an ethnic group in the Southeastern Asian country of Laos who fought with the United States during the Vietnam War. Many came to the U.S. after the war. California has the nation’s largest Hmong population and about 25,000 live in Fresno, comprising about 5 percent of the city’s population of 525,000.

Hall announced the establishment of an Asian gang task force ahead of the Hmong New Year, which is celebrated the week after Christmas, out of concern about the possibility of more violence or retaliation.

There was no known gang connection to the weekend party, which was low-key. It “was not described as being out of control in any way. It was just a family event,” Hall said.

Concepcion Soto, who has lived next door to the home where the shooting occurred for 12 years, said the family there was always friendly.

“They would have parties in their backyard, but they wouldn’t play music. They would just drink and talk,” she said. “They have been very good neighbors.”

Calvin Gatison, who lives on the same block of single-family homes with manicured front yards described it as quiet during the week. On weekends, grandfathers can be seen playing with grandchildren in front yards, while other neighbors host outdoor gatherings.

He said the neighborhood generally is peaceful, though there have been three shootings since mid-September.

Choua Vang told the Fresno Bee that his neighbor’s house was shot at last week and he feels unsafe outside after dark.

“We’re thinking about moving out of the neighborhood,” he said.

Rep. Jim Costa, a Democrat who represents the Fresno area in Congress, said he was saddened to hear of another shooting “this time in my own district.” He said in a statement that “thoughts and prayers are not enough!” and urged the Senate to take up gun-control legislation.

There have been eight mass killings in California so far this year, claiming the lives of 33 people, according to a database compiled by The Associated Press, USA Today and Northeastern University. That’s a dramatic increase from previous years, with eight mass killings in the state for all of 2016-2018.

The increase mirrors the national trend in 2019. There have been 39 mass killings this year in the United States, compared with 25 in 2018, according to the database, which tracks homicides where four or more people are killed, not including the offender.

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Rodriguez reported from San Francisco. Associated Press writer Stefanie Dazio in Los Angeles and news researcher Rhonda Shafner in New York also contributed to this report.