SALT LAKE CITY — Pearlly Wa took the stand Thursday and spoke of her only daughter, killed when the girl was only 7 years old.
Wa remembered how she and her husband were "craving" a girl after having three boys, and she told of her child's birth in a refugee camp in Thailand.
"I took care of her," Wa said of Hser Ner Moo. "I did my best. Everybody in the house loved her the most because she's the only girl. She was fast and she was clever and she loved Sunday School. She was outstanding. This broke my family's heart."
The girl apparently walked away from her South Salt Lake apartment in March 2008. Her body was found the next day in the bathroom of a basement apartment where Esar Met, 25, was living.
Authorities believe the child was raped, strangled and beaten to death the afternoon she disappeared.
Met has been charged with aggravated murder and child kidnapping, both first-degree felonies, in connection with the girl's death, charges that could lead to the death penalty.
Thursday was the second day in a hearing before 3rd District Judge William Barrett to determine if Met should stand trial in the death of the child.
The mother described returning from a dentist's appointment on March 31, 2008, to find her daughter missing. She said Hser had been left in the care of an aunt and uncle and never left the South Parc apartment complex without her parents.
Wa said she searched the area before calling the family's caseworker and asking her to call police. Though most of the testimony came through interpreters, Wa's reaction upon learning about what happened to her daughter was clear in any language.
"(The police) said they found her, but she was," Wa said, halting as she brought her hands to her face. "(They) found her dead."
Cartoon Wah, the girl's father, said his daughter was a healthy and happy girl who cared about education and felt her future was bright in the United States. He said Hser studied hard, was quickly learning English and loved going to church, pushing her family to arrive early on Sundays.
"There are many special things about my daughter," Wah said.
She was a pretty child who loved makeup, putting on lipstick, playing with friends and helping her parents, he said. The morning of March 31, 2008, she was happy and healthy, Wah said.
But when he returned home from work that day, he said his wife told him Hser was missing, and he began searching for her. The girl's parents testified that neither of them could sleep nor eat during the night, and they took up the search the next day.
"I was still searching, and I still believed my daughter would come home," Wah said. "(Hser) can't be lost."
Maung Than Htaik testified that he met Met in a refugee camp when he was 15. He said Met sold ice cream and snacks to children in the camp, and when the man moved to the United States, he often played with Hser and Htaik's sister, Nane We.
"After my sister was released from school, (Met) came and played with the kids because he loved kids," Htaik said, noting it was most often an "elephant riding game." "(Met would be on all fours, and the kids would ride on his back."
We said she and Hser lived in the same apartment complex and were friends who often played together. She said the two girls also played with Met and sometimes watched videos with him at his apartment.
The girl, now 14, said her mother told her Hser came to play with her the day she went missing, but We was still asleep. Htaik also testified that Hser came by, followed hours later by her mother, who was searching for her.
"I was concerned about the girl, and since Esar loved my sister, I called to see if he took Hser Ner Moo with him, and he said he didn't," Htaik said.
He testified that the only phone number he had for Met was his aunt's home. That's where Met was when he said he didn't take the girl, Htaik said.
Neither of Hser's parents said they knew Met, though they knew the four men who lived in the upstairs of the apartment. The men, all of whom speak Karen, were friends with one of their sons, and they said their son sometimes took the young girl to that apartment.
Met speaks Burmese. A refugee from Myanmar, Met has struggled to understand the court proceedings. There have been difficulties finding interpreters for the man, resulting to delays in the lead up to this week's hearing. There is now a Karen interpreter for the witnesses and Hser's family, and two Burmese interpreters for Met and other witnesses.
"This effected my family a lot, especially her mother," Wah testified. "Her mother now has to take depression pills, anxiety pills. I, myself, am always thinking about our little girl. … When I see girls (that) age on the street, getting on the school bus, it really hurts my heart."