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The older brother of Yia Xiong tearfully recalled his brother’s and sister-in-law Ka Lor’s lives in a news conference Thursday afternoon, two days after their deaths.
Chee Nou Xiong, 36, said it’s painful to know he’ll never again see them at family gatherings.
“It’s just heartbreaking,” Chee said. “They won’t be there anymore.”
The fact that his four nieces and one nephew are now parentless especially hurts him.
“‘Is my mommy still sleeping?’” Chee said he heard one of the kids recently say. “That one breaks me the most.”
Joined by Joua True Xiong, a family elder of Yia Xiong, Chee Nou said he was coming forward publicly to ask the community for help with funeral costs for his brother and sister-in-law and in supporting his orphaned nieces and nephew. They held the news conference at the office of the Hmong 18 Council, which is helping the family with funeral arrangements, on St. Paul’s East Side.
Police say Yia Xiong, 33, shot and killed Ka Lor, 30, on Tuesday night and subsequently killed himself. Both Chee and Joua said they didn’t have answers for why the tragedy happened and that they are still processing the events. Yia and Ka had been together for 10 years, and their five children range in age from 2 to 9 years old.
Chee has set up an online fundraiser to help pay for funeral expenses.
Chee said he last spoke with his younger brother late Monday afternoon right after he got off work. Yia, Ka, and their children had spent the weekend on a family camping trip to Duluth, a yearly tradition before the kids started the school year.
“They just came back from vacation like they always do,” he said. “The whole family loved camping.”
Joua, 62, said he visited the family monthly. He described Yia as a good person with great potential in life.
“I will miss them daily,” Joua said of both Yia and Ka Lor. “Whenever I went to their house, the couple would always greet me. And now when I go to their house, no one will be there to greet me. It’s very sad.”
In his last conversation with his brother, nothing seemed out of the ordinary, Chee said.
“We were joking,” Chee said. “The voice that came out of his mouth was just regular, us talking about having fun, what were we going to do this weekend. On Tuesday, everything just turned around.”
Chee said he had no indication of troubles in his brother and sister-in-law’s relationship, or that his brother was suffering from any mental health problems. He said he never saw his brother act violently and wasn’t aware of any prior violent events in the relationship. From the outside, the family appeared to be living a good life, he said, and were financially stable. His brother worked as a car mechanic and Ka Lor worked as a medical assistant.
Chee described his brother as someone whose kids were his life.
On Thursday afternoon, Sahan Journal reached a sister of Ka Lor who said she and Lor family members do not want to be interviewed by the media at this time. Chee said his family members have shared information about what happened Tuesday night with Ka Lor’s family, but that he hasn’t yet met with them face to face. He said the families plan to meet soon.
‘I got a really bad phone call’
When Chee’s mother called him late Tuesday evening, he knew something was wrong. She called around 11:30 p.m., two hours after the incident.
“You got to go to your brother’s house now,” he said she told him. “I got a really bad phone call.”
“As soon as my mom said that, it hurt my heart so bad that I couldn’t get out of bed,” Chee added.
When he arrived at his brother’s house, Chee said police officers wouldn’t let him inside because the scene was so bad. The five children were sheltered at a neighbor’s house, and police told Chee to go get them. Chee would soon learn what happened.
Just before the apparent muder-suicide happened, Yia Xiong told all of the children to go downstairs and play. The oldest child, Chee’s 9-year-old nephew, then heard three gunshots. He went upstairs and found his mother and father shot and called 911. Then, he carefully guided his sisters outside of the home and made sure they didn’t see their parents’ bodies. They went to a neighbor’s house and waited for the police and family to arrive.
Chee described his nephew’s actions as heroic and thanked their neighbor for taking them in that night.
Chee said only the oldest son knows what happened to his parents, but that the second oldest of the kids has a vague idea of what happened. The remaining three believe their parents are still alive, which Chee said breaks his heart.
“They’re still thinking their parents are either at work or still sleeping,” he said.
The children are now all staying with their grandmother, Chee said. He said they each met with a social worker on Wednesday but added that it was still too early to know the next steps of the support they’ll need to process what happened.
“They are still so young; they still have a bright future,” he said.
Chee said he wishes he could have done something to help his brother and prevent what happened Tuesday night. Chee said his brother listened to people and followed advice.
“I think of that every moment,” he said. “If he could have given me a call. That second I would have been able to just drive over there, say, ‘Hey let’s go out, or talk somewhere, or do something besides being in the house.’”
Chee implored people suffering from mental health issues to seek help.