Police released more details about the grisly murder-suicide in a downtown Fresno medical office on Tuesday — an incident foreshadowed by court records documenting domestic violence after Zyang Vang was traditionally married in the Hmong culture at the age of 12.
Lt. Mark Salazar said Wednesday that a property dispute appears to be the catalyst of the deadly shooting at SANG Pediatrics, where employee Vang, 33, was shot and killed by her estranged husband, Neng Moua, 43.
Salazar said Vang and Moua owned a home together on East Shaw Avenue in Clovis, where Moua was still living. Vang was living in southeast Fresno and wanted to sell the Clovis home.
Police found a suicide note at the Clovis home Tuesday evening. Salazar didn’t share its contents, except to say it referenced “problems the two were having.”
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The pair had five children together — ages 11 to 21 — and Vang had two from a separate relationship. All of the children were accounted for and unharmed, Deputy Chief Pat Farmer said Tuesday.
Salazar said a total of five shots were fired at the medical offices Tuesday. The first call of shots fired came in at 10:52 a.m. and within about 10 minutes, Salazar said the final shot was heard — believed to be Moua killing himself. Vang and Moua were both found dead in the office’s reception/waiting room.
Anna Lee, who worked with Vang at Dr. New Sang’s office for eight years, described Vang as outgoing, caring, and someone you could always count on. She said Vang previously worked as a medical assistant and later, as a receptionist for the office.
“She was very responsible,” Lee said. “She was a very good mother and co-worker.”
Salazar said Vang and Moua were arguing in Hmong in the minutes before Vang was shot. At least one witness reported seeing the murder.
Police who responded shattered windows to help usher out more than 20 frightened patients and workers. One of them, 13-year-old Kelly Mek, said she saw Moua threaten someone behind the desk, drag her to the floor, hit her, and unwrap a shotgun.
Salazar said Moua didn’t shoot at any other workers or patients. No one else was injured in the shooting.
“We are fortunate that we didn’t have more victims,” Salazar said. “The officers on-scene did a great job in establishing a presence at the building and took swift and decisive action.”
Detectives were still investigating the shooting Wednesday, processing evidence and interviewing more witnesses, Salazar said.
The pediatrician whose downtown Fresno office was the scene of the murder-suicide released a statement early Wednesday, mourning the death of his employee.
Dr. Sang said Vang worked for him for 10 years and that his family had known her since she was a baby. Vang was a patient of his mother, Dr. Orathai Sangrujiveth.
Sang was out of town with his family when the shooting occurred at his medical offices at S and Mariposa streets.
In his statement, Sang said Vang “was an amazing mother, colleague, and employee. She was loyal, warm and caring, and always willing to help everyone. We will do everything in our power to help the family get through this loss.”
Sang and his family returned to Fresno late Wednesday. The office will be closed for the rest of the week, but a counselor will be available to staff, patients and community members affected by the shooting. According to his statement, patients with questions may reach an office representative by email at email@example.com.
An online donation account has been created by SANG Pediatrics to raise funds for a memorial service for Vang. The GoFundMe account states any additional funds not used for the memorial service will go directly to Vang’s family to help them during this difficult time.
Salazar said Tuesday’s murder/suicide was unusual because there was no recent domestic violence reported between Moua and Vang. But police did respond to a domestic violence call between them in 2004.
That year, Moua was arrested without incident at his Clovis home and charged with domestic violence, court records say.
In August 2004, he pleaded no contest to misdemeanor charges of battery and making criminal threats. He was put on probation and ordered to attend 26 weeks of anger management classes. In March 2005, Moua completed the classes, but his counselor told the court that he “constantly defends his negative attitudes and beliefs” and blamed others for his problems.
“His attitude is dismissive and defensive and he uses humor defensively,” the counselor said.
Because Moua completed the program and stayed out of trouble, a judge dismissed the criminal cases in August 2005.
Other than a traffic ticket for a defective windshield or rear window — which he fixed — Moua had stayed out of trouble, the court records show.
Vang and Moua were married in August 1993 in an arrangement between both families for $3,500, traditionally a dowry paid by the groom to the bride’s family. She was 12 and he was 21.
The marriage was “unrealistic from the beginning,” Vang said in court documents filed in Fresno County Superior Court to annul her marriage in 2004. Moua, however, said Vang agreed to the union.
In Hmong culture, marriage at a young age “was a norm,” said Ghia Xiong, a psychologist at the Fresno Center for New Americans. Marriages at a young age were made in the old country where everyone lived together, worked together and supported each other, he said.
“I think as we become more acculturated into American society it becomes less of a norm.”
Vang claimed that she was abused — strangled, thrown on the floor, pushed and grabbed — during the 10 years she was married to Moua. They separated at the end of 2003 after a violent outbreak and a threat.
That November, Vang said Moua strangled her when she did not return his affections. Marks were visible on her neck and she had a sore throat for two weeks, court documents said.
A month later, Vang was threatened by Moua in a phone call she made to check on her children. “If you go near my house or my kids, I will shoot you and whoever is with you,” she claimed that he said.
Vang was granted custody of her children in January 2004. Shortly after, she said Moua moved his girlfriend into their four-bedroom home and forced her and the children to live in the garage, according to court records.
Vang filed a restraining order against her husband and asked the court to remove him from the home so she could raise their children there.
Young marriages and a clash in cultures may have a role in divorce and violent breakups, Xiong said.
“This is a good example of how culture clashes,” Xiong said. American culture “embraces equality and you have a (Hmong) culture that looks more favorably at the man while the woman stays quiet and shouldn’t dig into things ... when you put that together the end result is devastating.”
Shooting out of character
But Moua’s brother, Greg Moua of Fresno, painted a different picture, calling Tuesday’s shooting out of character for his brother.
Greg Moua described his brother as a good person and quiet man who worked hard to financially support his children. He said his brother, a lifelong Clovis resident, worked as a roofer for a Fresno roofing company for more than 20 years.
He said Vang didn’t want their children to see their father after they separated, but that when the children got older, they reached out to their father and rekindled their connection.
Neng Moua’s neighbor, Anita Stidston, described him as friendly and respectful. She said he helped her husband work on their deck and prune their trees. “I never saw the dark side of him.”
Vang’s death was Fresno’s 12th homicide for 2015. By this time last year, there had been 17.
Genelle Taylor Kumpe, executive director of the Marjaree Mason Center, said Tuesday’s shooting is shedding light on the “dark topic” of domestic violence — “especially in our community.”
“Marjaree Mason Center strives to prevent and end the cycle of abuse through education and advocacy, which starts with the youth in our community,” Kumpe said. “We are absolutely a resource for the children involved in this domestic violence incident, and all children exposed to this abuse in Fresno County.”
She added that anyone exposed to domestic violence can call the Marjaree Mason Center’s 24-hour confidential hotline at (559) 233-HELP (4357).