Shooting victim was well-known community member in Duluth

News that an 84-year-old Maplewood, Minn., man fatally shot his son over a dispute about installing cable in the family home last week has stunned people in the Duluth area who knew the victim.

Michael Sunnafrank and Chue Vang
Michael Sunnafrank (left), head of the Department of Communication at the University of Minnesota Duluth, poses with Chue Vang, who once was his student, at a Hmong New Year celebration in 2012. (Photo courtesy Michael Sunnafrank)

News that an 84-year-old Maplewood, Minn., man fatally shot his son over a dispute about installing cable in the family home last week has stunned people in the Duluth area who knew the victim.
Chue Vang attended the University of Minnesota Duluth and worked at the Copeland Community Center and later at the Valley Youth Center before returning to the Twin Cities to help his aging parents.
Vang, 36, was shot March 24 by his father, Pang Se Vang, in the family home, according to police and court documents. A large contingent of UMD alumni and Duluthians are planning to attend funeral services Thursday in St. Paul.
Friends said Vang had a gift for bridging the cultural divide between the Twin Ports’ older generation of Hmong and a younger generation raised in the U.S.
“I had the privilege of knowing and having him assist in cultural navigation many times in my work with the local Hmong elders,” said Bea Larson, a retired Duluth ESL teacher.
“He was a wonderful role model and mentor to the youth who came into the computer centers where he worked. He was respected by the elders and was often called upon to help with intergenerational issues,” said Larson, who taught English to adult immigrants and refugees from 1985 until 2012.
Hmong who grew up in their native Vietnam, Thailand or Laos can have trouble communicating with their American-influenced children, with language and cultural differences serving as obstacles.
Larson recalled one particular case involving a father and his 16-year-old son who had run away from home.
“The father thought he was getting into trouble. We figured it out with the help of Chue and the police department,” Larson recalled, noting that the teen went on to move to the Twin Cities, got his GED, found a job and since has married.


Video above: Daniel Oyinloye, who worked with Chue Vang as a teaching assistant at UMD and now runs IR Media House, created a video tribute to Chue. A message posted with the video on YouTube said Chue Vang "enhanced, and changed the experience and lives of hundreds of students at the University Of Minnesota Duluth."


Domestic dispute spun out of control


Pang Se Vang was charged in Ramsey County District Court on Thursday with second-degree murder in the death of his son. Police responded to the family home on the 1800 block of County Road B East in Maplewood about 11:51 a.m. Monday, where they found Chue Vang dead in a hallway and Pang Vang bleeding from self-inflicted knife wounds to the chest and neck.
According to the complaint:
Pang Vang called his pastor that morning and said he was upset that his son would not pay to install cable in the home. Chue Vang owned the home and lived with his parents and siblings. The two had argued, and Chue Vang told his father he had the option to move out, the pastor told authorities.
Pang Vang’s wife said their son asked his dad to talk to his sons about any problems.
“I’m not talking with you kids,” Pang Vang said before closing himself off in his bedroom.
Chue Vang opened the bedroom door, said, “Dad!” and was shot once by his father, charges said.
Another son wrestled a rifle away from their father, and family members fled the home.
“If you are not afraid of dying then come in and bother me,” Pang Vang told his wife when she confronted him in their bedroom. “If you are afraid of dying, then you better run away.”
When police arrived, they asked the father to surrender with his hands up. “The defendant replied that he could not because he had stabbed himself in the chest and was on the bed,” the complaint said. “He said that he stabbed himself because he wanted to die.”
Pang Vang eventually surrendered to police after a two-hour standoff, telling them at one point that he did not want to settle the matter in court but would settle the dispute with his deceased son in the afterlife, authorities said.
A Ramsey County SWAT team moved in and found Pang Vang on the bed, “covered in blood on his chest, stomach and neck.” A large knife lay about 6 inches away. He was taken by ambulance to Regions Hospital in St. Paul, where he was treated for the self-inflicted wounds to his neck and abdomen and booked at the county jail.
“He admitted that he loaded it (the weapon), pointed it at his son and shot him,” the complaint said.
Maplewood Police Chief Paul Schnell said the family described Pang Se Vang as being “very militaristic, very patriarchal … (a) ‘my way or the highway’ kind of orientation …”
It was not a self-defense case, Schnell said. “This is murder stemming from a dispute that really would not be of unusual significance in anybody’s life. … It’s tremendously hard to wrap your head around.”
At 84, Pang Vang is the oldest defendant to be charged with murder in Minnesota because the state system began tracking records in the 1970s, though some counties did not join the system until the 1980s, according to a spokesman with the Minnesota Judicial Branch.

Serving others

Vang’s family arrived in the Twin Cities from Laos in the 1980s.
Chue Vang had bought the family’s house with his sister, See Vang Yang, according to an affidavit filed in support of a search warrant.
Chong Vang said he hoped his father stays behind bars “and understands what he did to one of his sons, to his best son. … My brother was twice the man I am.”
The decision to go home to help care for his family - about a semester short of earning his degree - was very much in keeping with Chue Vang’s character, according to those who knew him.
Michael Sunnafrank, professor and head of the Department of Communication at UMD, said he met Chue Vang in 2003 as a student in his Intercultural Communication class, which is one-third white students, one-third immigrant and international students and one-third nonwhite students.
“He just took my class as a liberal education class and just fell in love with it,” Sunnafrank said, adding that Chue Vang eventually became his teaching assistant.
“The class is about getting students to cross those cultural barriers. I’m always on the lookout for (students) who were good at it, and Chue was,” Sunnafrank said. “He’d come in and TA on a voluntary basis even after he left UMD.
“He really influenced lives by the man that he was,” said Sunnafrank, who said he has been inundated by students who contacted him after hearing the news.
Syed Zaidi, a former intercultural classmate, experienced that selflessness when Zaidi found himself stranded after a class trip and Chue Vang gave him a ride home, even though it was an hour out of his way.  
“(After) he said if you ever need a ride, or someone to pick you up or drop you off, I’ll come get you,” Zaidi said. “And I’m someone he barely even knew.”
Chue Vang took that same passion to neighborhoods throughout the Twin Ports, getting involved as everything from a translator to an informal youth mentor in West Duluth. He helped develop the annual Hmong New Year community celebration, which is held at First United Methodist Church on the Skyline, better known as the “copper-top church.”. He also emceed the event, friends said.
“He worked in the computer lab at the community center, and he also attended the meetings of the elders,” Larson said. “Chue often served that (translator) role, and he also served the role of a cultural broker; somebody who understands both cultures and knows the difficulties transitioning from one culture to another, and transitioning from one to another while maintaining the strengths and traditions of the old culture.”
Russ Salgy, director of the Valley Youth Center, said Vang served as the center’s technology jack of all trades. And when a grant was secured to help Harbor View residents with their computer needs, he often went to people’s homes on service calls.
“When the grant ran out, Chue just kept on doing it on his own,” Salgy said. “He was a ‘never say no’ kind of guy.”

The St. Paul Pioneer Press and the Star Tribune contributed to this report.

Funeral information

Services for Chue Vang will be from 8 a.m. to 3 p.m. Thursday at Koob Moo Funeral Chapel, 1235 Arcade St., St. Paul.

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