Hmong murder-suicides

In November 1998, Young Sayaxang Lee (37) fatally shot his wife, Maichao Vang (28), and also shot and killed himself.  The oldest daughter (11) discovered her mother’s body in the bedroom of their home and called 911.  Police discovered Young’s body in the basement.

In 2006, Joanne Khang (25) was stabbed to death by her husband, Kou Khang (30).  Kou also stabbed himself to death.

In Weston, WI, Chor Xiong (39) shot and killed his estranged wife, Padalina Thao (29) and critically wounded her boyfriend, Pao Chang (41) on September 14, 2006.  Padalina was staying at a women’s shelter in Wausau.  Chor laid in wait in the basement for Padalina and her boyfriend to pick the children up at 7am and shot them when they arrived.

On August 20, 2007, May Yang (31) moved to Fresno, CA to escape her abusive common law husband, Ker Vang (41).  Ker traveled from MN to Fresno, tracked down his wife, and fatally shot her and himself in front of family members.

Around the same time, Chor Thao killed his pregnant wife, Pa Houa.  Chor later stabbed himself to death after being chased by police.

In 2008, Ying Moua (33) fatally shot his wife, Bouavanh Moua (32), their 2-year-old twins, and wounding their 3-year-old daughter, then turned the gun on himself.

In 2009, Dang Xiong (24) shot and killed his wife, Pa Hou Vang (22), outside their home around 11 pm.  He, then, shot and killed himself.

In August of this year, Jenny Moua (22) was shot to death in Merced, CA.  Her ex-fiance fled the scene to Fresno, informed a family member of what he did, and fatally shot himself.

The Hmong community credits murder-suicides to adultery, when wives cheat and leave their husbands for their boyfriends.  In July of 2009, the late and former Major General Vang Pao was invited as the keynote speaker to address domestic violence (DV) in Wausau, WI.  This was the efforts of Hmong social service groups in WI, MN, and CA after a string of murder-suicides were committed in the Hmong community in 2008 and early 2009.

Although I know that Vang Pao’s message meant well, there were a lot of it that shouldn’t have been said.  He stated that the number one reason why the Hmong can’t support each other and live peacefully (in regards to domestic violence; Hmoob txoj kev tsis txhawb nqa thiab txoj kev tsis sib haum xeeb) is because of adultery.

He goes on talking about how Hmong women in the US don’t care for traditions and do whatever they please despite what the clans say.  Vang Pao stated that when the Hmong were still in Laos, they had their own laws, and this—women doing whatever they please, adultery, murder-suicides, DV—didn’t happen.  Now that the Hmong are in the US, the idea of freedom changes us.  According to him, the US legal system is very different from the Hmong traditional ways, and takes the women’s sides most of the time.  Vang Pao stated that a woman can report sexual assault by her husband and he’ll be jailed.  (FYI: In the state of California, it is a felony for anyone to sexually assault their spouse. PC 262).

The part of his speech that offended me the most was when Vang Pao stated that a man is very possessive of his wife.  Even a male fly cannot land on his wife without invoking the jealous wrath inside of him.  Women have to know that their husbands are controlling and possessive in this way, so they shouldn’t do anything to provoke him.  If a man worries about his wife wandering off, he should not allow her to work and just stay at home.

When someone as respected and honored as Vang Pao stands in front of the Hmong community and tells them that victims of DV should know that their husbands are possessive and jealous and for them to not provoke their husbands in any way, he is telling them that it’s their fault if they’re abused.  I may have misconstrued what Vang Pao said, but that was the message implied.  I respect Vang Pao for his efforts to put an end to DV in the Hmong community.  Why, in early 2010, Vang Pao helped with the funeral arrangements of DV victim Mai See Chang when her husband’s family would not give her a funeral.  On November 28, 2009, Mai See died mysteriously right before her husband was set to go to trial for DV charges.  Mai See was a DV client at Valley Crisis Center in Merced, CA.

Domestic violence is the underlying cause of murders and murder-suicides in intimate partnership.  It is the last and most extreme form of abuse and power and control: If I can’t have you, no one will.  A woman’s danger level increases drastically when she leaves her abuser.  Men are more likely to kill than any other time in their abusive relationships when they know their partners are leaving or have left.  This is because when a woman leaves, he no longer has control over her.  In order to maintain control, the abuser resorts to extreme measures: taking away the children, escalated physical abuse, or—as a last resort—murders or murder-suicides.

Many people, including the Hmong, don’t see it this way.  Yes, some women cheat on their husbands.  Yes, some women leave their husbands for their lovers.  I don’t condone these actions.  However, the actions of the wives do not give the Hmong men any right or excuse to harm or kill their partners.  (Back in Laos, it was very acceptable to “punish” your wife in this way).  And most of the time, the reason why the men would resort to such resolution is when there is already domestic violence in the home.

All of the murder-suicides mentioned are examples of extreme cases of domestic violence.  It is clear that each couple had a history of DV, even if it wasn’t openly stated by reporters.  “Domestic discord” that plagued the family.  They loved each other, but “turmoil plagued the marriage.”  Suspect making “terrorist threats” to the victim.  Sugar-coating or glossing over domestic violence does not do justice to the victims, their families, or survivors of DV.

It’s unfortunate that DV would catch the Hmong community and its leaders’ attention only after so many women were killed by their husbands or partners.  Yet, this is the reality.  To many cultures—especially the Hmong—it is not considered DV until there are bruises or someone dies.

Disclaimer:  Women can and do abuse, but statistics have shown that men abuse more than women.  That is the reason why the language in this post is gender-specific to men as the abusers.  Additionally, domestic violence can happen in both heterosexual and homosexual relationships and marriages.  Although homosexuality exists in the Hmong, it is still very taboo.  Hmong marriage dynamics are set up for only heterosexuality with very specific gender roles—the wife serves the husband.  And because traditional Hmong culture revolves around heterosexuality and procreation, I will only be focusing on heterosexual Hmong couples.

31 thoughts on “Hmong murder-suicides

  1. GVP’s mindset is just like my uncle’s. He is one of the elders and community leaders of the Yang clan in the Twin Cities, in the St. Paul area, and they bring cases to the older L** F***** and the newer H**** K*** Y** X*** organizations for arbitration and counsel all the time (I had to mask the organization’s names, because I know they don’t like when I speak the truth about them, especially the latter — they’ll probably file libel lawsuits). I’m hopeful that the next generation will take a different approach to domestic issues and make progress on these issues.

    Ten years ago, I happened to be visiting to help an elder relative with a divorce case involving an adulterating, self-confessed wife and her self-confessed, adulterating lover. Apparently, this happens all the time in Minnesota, or so they say? While the lover faced fines and had to pay restitution to his own wife, the adulterating woman got off free and even won penalties against the husband. That confused the heck out of me, but I learned later that the H**** K*** Y** X*** arbitration team had several sympathetic and aligned clansfolk on the woman’s side. Fortunately, no murder suicide resulted from this, but I came out of that experience realizing that the existing leadership lacks the ethics, insight, and true leadership to make the right decisions. Every day decisions are made by elders whom are biased, heavy handed, and corrupt. They’ve been conditioned to perpetuate the status quo, to line their pockets, or to act in the interests of their own clan lines. Women facing domestic violence or worse have wildly varying success depending on whom all is participating in the community counseling or arbitration process.

    Oddly, though, my uncle pulled me aside during a private drive with just him and me in the vehicle and lectured me about handling Hmong community law, or as he put it: “kev coj plaub”. He told me point blank not to be like him, my father, or any of the elders. He stressed that the old guard’s time was nearing its end and the new generation would need to rise up and make amends to all their mistakes. He told me we needed to be different, be open minded, and fight for equality. He specifically asked me to move away from the tit-for-tat clan feuding that has gone on for as long as ethnic memory serves us (I’ll write a blog late on the history of feuding… it was a Han Chinese thing that was done to Hmong/Miao to disunite us). I think he knew that even what they were doing, what they’ve been doing the last thirty years, was wrong, but that the existing community needed, even expected, the elders and leaders to handle community law in this manner. This is the way they, the leaders and the populace, were raised and taught and this is the way they will die, he said plainly. He was hoping I would take on a junior leadership role and move to Minnesota, but I declined after seeing all the corruption. I couldn’t cope with working with this much bias and corruption.

    It’s my hope that someday, educated young Hmong men and women with political experience will rise up and take the rein from the old guard. Until then, we just need to bring awareness to the victims and outside observers to see the warning signs and take proactive actions to prevent domestic violence or murder suicides. The victims need to know that the Hmong community, the L** F*****, and the H**** K*** Y** X*** organizations are not the only answers — you can always seek outside help from the police, social services, or other non-profit organizations.

    Thanks for your article! Keep up the good work. :)

    1. Thank you for the information. I am not a fan of Hmong politics. In my opinion, it is worse than American politics.

  2. I’m just saddened and astounded by the influence of the clan leadership….

    Maybe you ought write a book one day.

    Really, having a few very close, trusted friends outside the Hmong locals, is important in such situations.

    1. Writing a book is one of my goals in life. ^__^

      And you are correct. Having a support system outside of the Hmong community really does make a huge difference.

  3. Jenny Moua was a wonderful and loving person..For 6 years she put up with the abuse and everytime she left him she always went back and just like every typical Hmong family the elders told her to go back and to deal with it and being the good Hmong girl that she was, she did until she had enough and finally left him…The last 5 months before he murdered her she finally did move on and he knew she wasn’t coming back.. And so if he couldn’t have her no one else could too..We are still so sad and devasted by this tragedy..I have so much anger towards his family and the elders because to me they were the ones that cause this.. They all knew his mother, his father, brothers, sisters, grandparents, everyone knew he was depressed and dangerous when she left him and still no one cared, no one helped.. For once in my life I was ashamed to be Hmong and to know these people..I was ashamed of the Political Hmong members who came to her candlelight vigil and made it about them instead of her..they knew nothing about her but as long as they got some air time it was ok..I am sick and tired of the Hmong men who says one thing in front of the world but do another at home..General Vang Pao may have been a great general but to me he was a hypocritic who had too many wives and too many children…I don’t hear anything about any of his children having the success as he did so in my eyes he wasn’t really a great man because a great man would want his children to be so much bigger and better then they are and apparently his children aren’t…RIP Jenny we love and miss you everyday :(

    1. I did not know Jenny’s history, but I do know that the day she was killed, she had made plans to get a restraining order against him. She was ready to move on, and unfortunately, he didn’t want that. Although I didn’t know her, I was very saddened when I read about her death in the newspaper that morning. No one should die the way she, or any other victims for that matter, did. Many times, people question why a woman stays in an abusive relationship. Like I stated in my blog, fear is the number one reason. Fear that this would happen to yourself, your family, or friends. Jenny was not the first woman to die by the hands of her abuser, and unfortunately, neither will she be the last. And because he killed himself, in my opinion, justice will never be served. He took the easy way out.

  4. You forgot to mention Gram’s relatives who shot his wife and six children and turned the gun on himself. The oldest, the only one to survived (jumped out of the bed or bathroom window.) before his father could shot him. It happened in the 90′s.

    1. I know there are many more Hmong murder suicides, but I wanted stories I could post a link to. But thanks for reminding me. I completely forgot about that.

  5. I’m devasted to hear these stories of the Hmong people. I’ve also have a personal story. It was of my in-laws. The husband has been cheating for years behind the wife’s back until their 6 children grew up to be of legal age. It was just a year ago (2010) when the wife discovered what he was really doing. In all those years, he’s been keeping it on a down-low, but once in a while, he’ll give her clues as to what he was planning to do. All she thought was a hoax until a year ago. That’s when everything started to show.

    He would verbally abuse her, sometimes I would hear. In the past I’ve heard he was physically abusive, but I did not see it during my time there. To make a long story short, one night, they had an argument and he pulled out the shot gun and load it. Their youngest daughter who is at the time (18) was still living with them was in her room clueless when her mother ran in there. The wife hastily explained what’s happened and they were pretty shakened up. They even called the oldest brother, who lived over a hill from them, and let him know. Outside the door, the husband was yelling and threatening them to come out so he could just ‘talk’ to them. But who knows what he has in mind at the state of how he is at that moment. So the wife and daughter climbed out of the window and ran to the oldest brother’s home. They told him everything of what’s going on and spent the night there. When the husband went to work, they went back to their house and grabbed whatever they needed. They eventually ended up getting everything from the house.

    After all this happen, the wife consulted with the eldest and they’ve helped her as much as they can, but without any consent from the husband, they couldn’t really do anything. Also during that time, she also reported her husband and just released a restraining order. Once she has that protective order, she was a little relieved. The husband didn’t go to jail for the sake of her kids. So he still lingers around and pretty much stalk her. She was a strong women and still fighting for her rights and is filing a divorce. Til today, she still lives.

    I admire my mother-in-law so much for she is such a strong woman.

    For other Hmong women out there, you should not hesitate to report your husband if they pull a gun out on you as a threat or not. Who really cares for the Hmong tradition. This is America, and if you still wants to live for your kids or any purpose at all,, it’s a matter of life or death. No one deserve to be in that kind of situation at all.

    1. Thank you for sharing this. Your mother-in-law is a strong woman. And I do agree with you. You have to do what you have to do to stay safe, and sometimes, that means disregarding your cultural traditions.

  6. Thank you for sharing this…I am from Santa Barbara, originally, and knew several Hmong families growing up. Thankfully, although very traditional, they were raised properly to succeed and adapted to this culture while hiding on to the best parts of their own.

    By sharing this you are helping others. You must know that by speaking out, you are acting heroically. Sounds overdramatic…but really, it’s not. Thank you!

    http://tr4f.wordpress.com

    1. I don’t think of myself as acting heroically, but sometimes it’s daunting to speak out against something that’s been hush-hush in the community. Thank you for your comment.

  7. Thank you for this information. I’ve worked for Hmong 18 Council, Inc. in Minnesota for quite some time and have had some experiences seeing both the good and ugly side of Hmong men and women in terms of their commitments in maintaining a healthy marriage. I’d like to connect with you to hear more about your research in this area and maybe create a network with you in terms of sharing information.

  8. I simply love your view on this. I, too, agree about this and your view of this whole situation. I feel that when women are abused, especially in our culture, not much is done to prevent it. However, when the roles are switched, and women resort to abuse, we have a problem, and I am NOT okay with that. Much thanks to your insight :))

  9. Most women don’t leave their spouse because of affairs! They leave because of HIM! Most Hmong guys are very controlling and either physically or emotionally abusing (or both) of their wives. These women got the courage to leave their abusive husbands to try to save them self and their kids, but sadly they were murdered.

  10. Thank you for writing this post. I am also glad to hear the many voices in here supporting Hmong women. Many of you are right on target about the Hmong community and the clan system not being very useful in preventing DV in the community. I also want to share another perspective as well having dealt with brothers and father who were controlling and abusive while growing up. Something that we don’t talk in the community are the cultural expectations and emotional pressure/abuse the Hmong community and the clans are putting on the Hmong men. Just like we, as Hmong women, are being taught to be obedient and to learn how to cook and clean so we can become a good Nyab when we get married, the families are also teaching, either by example, or through preaching how their sons should learn to control their wives and their household or they are not man enough (when this is ingrained in you for many years, of course, you would prefer to kill yourself rather than facing the shame like in these murder-suicides cases). As you know, Hmong culture favors sons over daughters and families are putting all their hopes and dreams on their sons and when these sons don’t measure up, there are a lot of bribings going on (if you do this well, you would get this), shame or guilt put upon them to make sure they comform and do what the parents/clans want them to do, threats of being outcast and not having the support of the family or relatives when it comes to funeral, wedding, loans etc… Of course, I wish they could use these same techniques to ensure that Hmong men would respect Hmong woman in a DV situation but saddly its not the case, they are used to preserve the traditional culture and also a culture of abuse. I have worked in community social change for may years and have yet to see any community program to address theses issues for Hmong men. It’s still the old boys club where Hmong men protect each other and don’t want to acknowlege these problems in public. To me, it’s sad that Hmong men are not willing to take a leadership role in addressing these issues and therefore be the pionners in helping other Hmong men and the next generation of sons to be their authentic self regardless of the culture, to learn how to handle stress and changes that are sometimes part of life (such as wife leaving because the marriage doesn’t work anymore, children not following in your footsteps etc…) so they don’t have to feel like they have lost control. I wonder how many of you are parents here and how do you deal with theses issues while raising sons?

  11. I’ve read many of your comments here and I definitely agree. DV and abuse have been systematically ingrained in our culture so much that it’s normal. Many are blinded by the danger and long term effects it can cause.

    My family, for example, can be loving but has a history of DV and abuse. Personally, I hate it but cannot run from the fact. My mother and I share the same views about our family’s abusive past and we try to help make a change in the family. I already see it in my brothers, they are normal boys yet they can be a beast. It tears and kills me inside but I just dont know what to do.

    I dont want to point my fingers at anyone but I truly believe it was my grandpa who embedded this treatment within our family. He enforced this action as “punishment” and thus it carried on with my father and now brothers. I get really angry and caught up when an abusive situation arise in the family. It’s probably not safe but I jump in and try to stop it. I’m fairly petite in size but when I see something I do not like, it doesn’t stop me.

    I guess my question is, any suggestions for steps to take for a much healthier lifestyle? Both for myself and my family members.

    Thank you so much for starting this. I’ve been interested in being more involved with DV/Shelter Homes- esp in the Hmong community. Please share some resources if you can.

    1. Please remove (abusive) on the case of august 2007. Ker Vang and May Yang situation. Which is not true. I would appreciate it. Thank you.

  12. Hmong tradition you pay for your wives “yours to own”, bow on your knees hundreds of times, takes a decade for parents to save $ just to pay for their son’s wives. In order to reduce domestic voilence in hmong community from now ~ all hmong wives should be free,weddings should be simple, outcome: easy come – easy go- results: less voilence. Less heart breaking when got it for free and it’s gone!

  13. After reading this, i was like, this is why i am not married and love being single. Some hmong guys are like that and some hmong guys are not. It just depend. What I hate the most from my experience is this phrase,” You are the daughter, so once you are married. Your husband can do anything to you. You don’t belong to us anymore, or to our clan. Your husband’s side of the family will be the one to take care of u”
    Now that phrase is kind of fuck up. I know that some parent love their daughter a lot and will do anything for them. However, from my experience, even though i am not married. They will always love their son the most. That is my experience.

    As for the Hmong law that General Pao say…..it’s just a bunch of crap. It’s not just the hmong women’s fault. The husband must of done something too. Basically, i don’t know what went wrong in their relationship but to kill your wife and your children is just to cold bloody and then to kill yourself, now you are just a coward. Seriously, Really fuck up.

    I’m glad that living in american, things are changing and that Hmong women are standing up for what they believe is right.
    This is also why….from what i hear lately, why some hmong guy will rather fly to get a hmong wife from Laos or cheat on their wife to talk to hmong girls from Laos.
    Basically, they just can’t handle some of us Hmong women and don’t want to understand who we are or respect us.

    To be in a relationship, you have to communicate. If you can’t communicate and don’t respect one another, it is best to be separate from each other.

    I am saying that to all guys and girls.

  14. What must be done is to understand how the Hmong men came to their way of thinking without judgment. I’m convinced that it traces all the way back to warring times in China or further since the Hmong have always been under someone else’s thumb. It will be a long drawn-out process but worth the effort if we want long-term change. We can’t expect a group to suddenly change its behavior or subjugate them to do so by the western law as that will inadvertently cause more damage to the people as a whole. The men will only act out in aggression such as how many of them are now turning to oversea brides. The only way to bring this change is to have prominent male figures in the communities along with young and capable men initiate the desire to think differently.

  15. Alll your comments are appreciated but many of you are missing the bigger picture. It also appear that most ppl who commented on here are women. Do you have all the facts before expressing your opinions? Most cases involved DV or abuses but many cases the women just went on their ways to commit adulteries. They wanedt to expand their freedom. They want to live like real Americans. Unless ur white ur always going to be Hmong, so be the best Hmong American you can be and quit trying to live like ur American Hmong. If you must judge the DV abusers you have to judge the adulterers too. Don’t just take one side and make Hmong men seem like barbarians. Many times Hmong women are the guilty ones. They cheat, disgrace their family, and would not listen to anyone.

    We should handle these on a case-by-case basis and don’t generalize because we are basically judging ourselves. Any negative feedbacks we express…we are pretty much condemning our own. Don’t feed feul to people who have little or no clues as to what truly is happening in our communities. Yes, Hmong men need to change and most have adapted to the Western ways. Hmong women also need to change and not take their freedom too far.

    1. I agree that these cases should be dealt individually. I actually know about one of the murder-suicide cases and how it came to unfold. I don’t promote violence, yet it was inevitable with this particular couple.

    2. Do you justify abuse with adultery? A wife or husband cheats on their spouse and it’s only reasonable if their spouse hurts them in any way, or even kill them? Or that it’s reasonable to abuse and kill another person because they have assimilated to the mainstream culture, gained freedom? The whole purpose of my Hmong and DV series was to look at how our Hmong society, our patriarchal Hmong culture, sets the stage for and perpetuate domestic violence. And you have exactly just done that by putting blame on the victim.

      1. I don’t know if you were replying to me or not but the couple that I’m speaking of was abusive to each other for years. They were one of the couples on your list.

        1. I wasn’t replying to you. The dynamics change when two people are abusive towards each other. You have to look at who is the primary aggressor.

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