Word began spreading early Tuesday that a woman, her daughter and her son-in-law had been shot and killed in their southeast Wichita home.
When Ashok Surender learned, through social media and news accounts, that two of the three victims were former students of his at East High School, he tweeted a picture of them with their 5-month-old baby and these words: “My eyes, heart and soul weep for two of my former students.”
Not long ago, Surender ran into Sean Pham, husband of Trinh Pham. The Phams already had the same last name when they dated at East High, where Surender still is an assistant principal. He had joked with them that if they got married, no one would have to change a last name. Sean was in the class of 2011, Trinh in the class of 2012.
In high school, Sean was already working at Sears and very active with the business-oriented DECA program. He wanted to get a business degree. His family had come to the United States from Vietnam. “He had that American Dream,” Surender said. “He wanted to prove that he was going to be somebody who was going to make it.”
Sean’s future wife, Trinh, was an outstanding student at East, with a grade point average just shy of perfect. Surender remembers that Trinh felt devastated when she once got a B. She was involved in the orchestra.
When Surender last saw Sean, his former student pulled out a picture of the couple’s baby son. The new father, only 21, was excited. He told his former principal that the baby looked “like a little Buddha.”
They were a beautiful family – with so much promise – now shattered by a shooting.
“Oh, my heart aches, just talking about it,” Surender said late Tuesday afternoon.
He is encouraging the community to help donate to a funeral fund for the victims. It would show, he said, “that we love those kids.”
Earlier Tuesday, police detailed how the three were gunned down early Tuesday morning. Police arrested the boyfriend of Trinh Pham’s mother on suspicion of capital murder.
Officers responding to a 911 call of shots being fired converged on the house at 2207 S. Beech – near Pawnee and Webb Road – shortly after midnight and found Tuyet Huynh, 45, in her master bedroom, Lt. Todd Ojile said.
Sean Pham was found shot to death in a hallway, Ojile said. Officers then found 20-year-old Trinh Pham dead in a basement bedroom.
All three victims had been shot multiple times, Ojile said. Sean Pham also suffered blunt force trauma injuries.
The Phams’ infant son, who was in the bedroom where his mother was found, was unharmed.
The 41-year-old boyfriend of Huynh walked out of the master bedroom as officers forced their way into the house and surrendered without incident, Ojile said. He was taken downtown for questioning and later arrested.
Sedgwick County Jail records show that Vinh Van Nguyen, 41, was booked into jail at 6:58 a.m. Tuesday on suspicion of capital murder, with “more than one victim.” He was being held on $2 million bond.
A 1997 Nissan Maxima registered to Nguyen was parked in the street in front of the house on Beech and inside the crime scene tape, the yellow tape wrapped around the side view mirror of the driver’s door.
Police have not learned the motive for the killings, Ojile said.
The investigation is still in its early stages, he said, but he gave this account:
Officers were dispatched to 2207 S. Beech at about 12:05 a.m. in response to a disturbance with shots fired.
“The calling party stated there was an individual inside the house and there were numerous gunshots being fired,” Ojile said.
A recording of police radio traffic had this communication relayed at about 12:12 a.m.: “Just heard more shots inside of the house and the calling party is no longer answering.”
When officers arrived at the address, Ojile said, they surrounded the house. When a supervisor peeked through a window and saw two bodies, officers forced their way inside through the front door.
Detectives do not yet know the chain of events, Ojile said.
“We believe that the shootings were occurring while we were getting the 911 call” from Trinh Pham in the basement bedroom.
All three victims and the suspect lived at the house. The infant has been placed in the care of relatives, Ojile said. A younger daughter of Huynh’s was out of state visiting relatives at the time of the shooting, he said.
“We have no prior (police) calls at that residence, no prior domestic violence situations or criminal cases at that residence,” Ojile said.
Police recovered a weapon at the house, he said.
The deaths raise Wichita’s homicide total for the year to 14. There were 17 in all of 2013.
The violence shocked the well-kept neighborhood. One resident said: “It’s horrible. It just breaks my heart. I didn’t know them, but three people.”
“It’s scary too,” said the resident, who asked not to be named.
She said police came to her family’s door at about 1 a.m., said there had been a shooting and asked if they had heard or seen anything. They hadn’t.
Another neighbor said the residents where the shooting occurred had lived there maybe five years. He sometimes saw children playing outside.
A coroner’s vehicle arrived at the house shortly before 9 a.m. A number of vehicles drove slowly by the house before moving on, and one couple out for a morning bike ride along Beech performed a quick U-turn when they saw all the law enforcement vehicles in the 2000 block.
Shortly after 11:30 a.m., crews brought out two bodies on gurneys and placed them in a coroner’s van.
Not long after the two bodies were removed, Minh Pham, who identified himself as Huynh’s ex-husband and Trinh Pham’s father, said through an interpreter that he was very hurt by what had happened.
As he stood across the street from the house where the shooting occurred, Minh Pham tried to hold back tears. He described his daughter as “pretty.”
Huynh worked for Wichita State University on the second-shift custodial maintenance crew, said Barth Hague, the university’s chief marketing officer. WSU is making a care team available to her co-workers, Hague said.
Contributing: Amy Renee Leiker and John Boogert of The Eagle