/Hmong leaders reject gang connection in deadly Fresno party shooting; police fear more violence

Hmong leaders reject gang connection in deadly Fresno party shooting; police fear more violence

FRESNO, Calif. – The manhunt continued Tuesday for at least two gunmen whose rampage at a football-watching party left four people dead, six wounded and the close-knit Hmong community here in shock and mourning.

The victims of Sunday night’s carnage were members of the Southeast Asian Hmong community that has flourished in and around Fresno in recent years.

Fresno Police Chief Andrew Hall said there were 16 adult males in the backyard when the suspects entered through an unlocked gate armed with semiautomatic handguns and started shooting. Hall was hesitant to link the shooting to gang violence, but said the the investigation was “very active” and authorities hope to “stabilize” the situation before any retaliation can take place.

“Obviously, I’m very concerned about additional acts of violence,” Hall said.

Paula Yang, friend of some of the victims, said she knows all the men at the party and was stunned by the assault.

“They are not gang members, they are family,” said Yang, who added that she was concerned by the boldness of the attack. “It’s not even in the street, it’s in a backyard. That’s alarming and that is disturbing to me.”

People react near the scene of a shooting in Fresno, California. November 17, 2019.

Southeast Asian officers were called to the incident to speak with concerned residents, Hall said. He said there have been three incidents in November and a total of 11 this year involving Asian gangs. Hmong community leader Bobby Bliatout, however, said the partygoers Sunday were career-minded professionals.

“A lot of times we get painted… as gang members,” he said. “I can say 100% that people that were there, that were having this (party) and hosted this are not affiliated with gangs and should not be painted that way.”

The Fresno County coroner’s office identified the dead as Xy Lee, 23; Phia Vang, 31; Kou Xiong, 38; and Kalaxang Thao, 40, all of Fresno. Lee was a well-known singer in the Hmong community whose YouTube videos have garnered millions of views.

Oklahoma shooting:3 dead in shooting at Walmart: ‘The closer it is, the more it hurts’

The wounded range in age from 28 to 36. Vong Mouanoutoua, a city council member in nearby Clovis, visited surviving victims who were still hospitalized Monday.

“It hits right at home because in the Hmong community, you know everyone,” he told KFSN-TV. “You’re going to be related to one of the guys who got shot or one of the guys that passed away. The one thing beautiful about our community is we do step up when there is a death in any of families.”

Blong Xiong, a former Fresno council member, is now executive director of the Asian Business Institute and Resource Center. He told KMPH-TV that the attack “is still very fresh and raw,” and that the fear spawned by the shooting spreads far beyond the Hmongs.

“This is not just unsafe for our Hmong community, it’s the entire community,” Xiong said. “When it comes to public safety, it’s not a Hmong issue, it’s a community issue.”

Bacon reported from McLean, Va. Contributing: Jorge L. Ortiz; The Associated Press