Two days after a shooting that killed four men and wounded six at a backyard party in Fresno, Calif., police are seeking at least two gunmen — and the city’s large Hmong community is looking for answers.
Police say the two men said nothing as they entered the yard where people were watching football and started firing shots from semiautomatic handguns. “Witnesses only indicated that they saw the muzzle flash from the weapons,” said Fresno Police Chief Andy Hall.
All the victims are believed to have been members of Fresno’s Southeast Asian Hmong community. About 300,000 Hmong people live in the United States, according to the American Community Survey. About 34,000 of them live in Fresno, making it the country’s second-largest Hmong population after Minneapolis-St. Paul.
The men killed in the shooting were Xy Lee, 23; Phia Yang, 31; Kou Xiong, 38; and Kalaxang Thao, 40, as member station Valley Public Radio reports.
Lee was a singer well-known in the community. One of his songs has been viewed more than 3.5 million times on YouTube.
“It’s a dark day in our community, not only in our Hmong community but in our Fresno community,” said Pao Yang, CEO of the Fresno Center, which provides services to new Americans. Speaking at a news conference Monday, Yang added, “Two of the victims that passed away are well-known in the Hmong community. … They come out and perform to our mental health clients every year. … These are people that are near and dear to us.”
“Our community is in mourning,” said Yang. “We still don’t know what is going on, with regards to the suspect.”
Some of the victims had been scheduled to perform at the city’s upcoming Hmong New Year celebration, which attracts thousands of people from Fresno and beyond.
Police said on Monday that an “Asian gang task force” would be formed following the shooting. Hall said there had been an “uptick” of violence in Southeast Fresno, with 11 incidents this year involving Asian gangs.
But Hall also said there were no indications that any of the victims had gang ties.
“These are really pillars of our community,” Hall said of those who were shot. “These are working families, these are working community members. This is part of our community, this is our culture. They’ve been extremely cooperative. Obviously they’re extremely upset. But we’ve received nothing but cooperation from everybody at the house.”
Hall did mention a “disturbance” in the previous week that investigators were looking into.
“Some of the members who were attending the football party were involved in a disturbance during the prior week,” Hall said. “We are looking to see if there is a connection between that disturbance and last night’s shooting. However, we have no indication that those two are connected at this point.”
The suggestion of a spike in crime among Asian gangs in the area was news to some.
Bobby Bliatout, CEO of the Greater Fresno Health Organization and a candidate who’s running to replace Rep. Devin Nunes in Congress, told Valley Public Radio he was dubious of a connection between this shooting and gang violence.
“I haven’t seen an uptick myself or heard of an uptick of this kind of violence,” he said. “I do know, however, there is a stereotype of [Asian gangs].”
Federal agencies are aiding the police investigation, including the U.S. attorney’s office, the FBI, Homeland Security Investigations, and the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives.