At the corner of Vang Thao’s backyard, the sun rays illuminate the silky webs across the rusty handle bar of the lawn mower as a Black Widow conceals itself within the peeling black paint of the rusty handle bar waiting for its prey. “When he was still here, we didn’t have to worry about yard work. He would cut our lawn once a week. Now that he’s not here anymore, the lawn mower just sits at the corner of our yard. When I miss him, I cut the grass. I cry every time I think about how much he has done for us and how different it feels for him to not be here with us anymore. I’d never thought a tragedy like this would ever happen to me because he doesn’t deserve death, he’s a good son” cries Sheng Xiong, mother of Vang Thao.
On Saturday evening December 3rd 2011, a gathering on Buckingham Court became a tragedy, a nightmare for the family and friends of Vang Thao. Local police came to the residence responding to a call. As they made their way into the backyard where the party was located, a young man named Kong Meng Xiong is said to have emerged holding a gun, prompting officers to open fire, injuring Kong Meng Xiong and inadvertedly killing Vang Thao who was an innocent bystander. Kong Meng Xiong was initially blamed for the death of his uncle Vang Thao. On December 7th 2011, Merced Police Chief Norman Andrade made a statement to ABC30 that “Kong Xiong is responsible for the death of Mr. Vang. If Xiong had not pointed a weapon at our officers, they would not have opened fire and Mr. Thao would not be dead.” He also stated that “These are split second decisions, life and death decisions.”
Kong Meng grew up in South Merced as a witness and victim of violence and abuse in his school, outside his school, and at home where he was supposed to feel the feelings of love and safety. Like many of the traditional Hmong families here in America, children are taught to be obedient and if they are not, they are disciplined physically and emotionally. And then there are also Americanized Hmong families where they were taught to communicate with their parents to justify or work-out a situation, this was not the case for Kong. According to Jer Thao, Kong’s older step-brother, Kong Meng did not have a good relationship with his parents or any of his family members other than him which is pretty common in traditional Hmong families due to their beliefs of discipline. He says, “Kong Meng is not an open-minded person because of what he saw I went through. I think because he was a witness of my abuse at home, it made him think that the world outside must be as horrible as home. It bothered him a lot.” Jer also stated that Kong Meng was a victim of bullying. He would come home every day after school and complain about getting bullied. There was an incident where he was bullied by a Hispanic guy and since he couldn’t do anything to stop the bullying, he used force. Ever since then he started believing that force is a way to stop bullying, using violence against violence.
The questions people were asking were “did Kong Meng really have a gun? Why did they shoot into a crowd of people? Did the Merced Police announce they were present during the time of the shooting? Why aren’t the cops punished for the death of Vang Thao? Who is ultimately to blame?” I reached out to Lt. Jim Gurden of the Merced Police Department, but unfortunately after weeks of reaching out I never received a call back.