Many parents of the victims of this week's schoolyard massacre had fled the killing grounds of Vietnam and Cambodia only to have their children die on a playground in their adopted homeland. Some fear the violence against them has only begun.
Police said Wednesday they have no evidence that the killer was racially motivated, but for many of the estimated 30,000 Southeast Asian refugees in California's San Joaquin Valley, the massacre that left five children dead and 29 wounded evoked the horrors in their homelands.Samonn Koeut sobbed uncontrollably as he spoke of Rathanan Or, his 8-year-old playmate who was among the dead. Rathanan Or's father, a rebel Cambodian soldier, was reported killed in a fire fight against forces of the murderous Khmer Rouge. The mother, In Or, fled Cambodia with her two children because, she said Wednesday, she "wanted to be in a place of peace and freedom - the United States."
Koeut and his family had lived side by side with Or's family, first in Cambodia, then in a Thai refugee camp, and finally in Stockton, nestled in California's lush agricultural heartland.
"I left my country. All the time they die like that there. That's OK," Koeut said. "But right now in the United States there is no war. How come do they do like that?"
The gunman, unemployed welder Patrick Purdy, 26, wearing black boots, jeans and a camouflage shirt over a flak jacket, calmly mowed down the children and a teacher Tuesday with a Chinese-made AK-47 before taking out a 9mm pistol and firing a fatal shot into his head.
Purdy, 26, a clean-cut blond drifter with a troubled past and a history of relatively minor scrapes with the law, attended the school, Cleveland Elementary, from 1969-73.
He bought the AK-47 legally in Oregon, where he only had to sign a form saying he was not a fugitive or mentally unstable. The rifle, the basic infantry weapon of the Communists in Vietnam, may have been illegally modified to fire on full automatic.
Police said Purdy fired as many as 110 bullets into the children and the walls of the school.
The attack brought new calls in the California Legislature for a ban on such military weapons.
A search of Purdy's $100 a week motel room in nearby Lodi turned up about 100 green plastic toy soldiers, Jeeps and tanks arrayed in an apparent mock battle.
The war toys, said Police Capt. Dennis Perry, the chief investigator, were "spread out through the entire room _ up on top of the drapes, in the shower, one in the freezer, all over the place.
Hand-printed on his camouflage shirt were "PLO," "Libya," "Earthman" on the front and on the back "Freedom" and "Death to the Great Satin," an apparently misspelled slogan that Iran uses to refer to the United States.
The rifle had the word "Hezbollah," the name of a pro-Iranian terrorist group based in Lebanon, carved into the stock.
"It suggests that this guy may have had delusions of grandeur about Iran," Perry said. "Why he did this we may never know. We can only assume that some problem came up in this guy that made him do it."
Only about 200 of the 800 or so students returned to school Wednesday, despite the wishes of social workers who believed they would be better able to deal with the tragedy if they were together rather than isolated from their schoolmates.
Pam A. White, of the Lao Family center, said that for many of Stockton's Southeast Asian refugees, the attack was "a re-enactment" of the mass killing they witnessed in their native Cambodia, Vietnam and Laos.
"But there, there were adult men shooting adult men," she said. "They're saying, `Even in our war-torn country no one came to a school and killed children."'