Slain couple were cherished elders in Cambodian community

Anchorage Daily News / adn.comMay 28, 2013 

At Player's Choice Bingo in Mountain View the last few days, two regulars have been missing from Section 8 up in the balcony, where they always sat in the same two chairs.

Employees doted on Touch Chea and his wife, Sorn Sreap. They were a Cambodian couple in their 70s, who came to bingo most nights and stayed until the parlor closed, said Mattie Pen, the gaming manager. People called them papa and mama. They won more often than most people.

"People called them very lucky, a very lucky couple," Pen said.

Chea and Sreap had been lucky more than once in their lives. They escaped genocide in Cambodia that killed their family members, including Sreap's first husband, their family said. They survived life in refugee camps in Thailand and the Philippines. They came to the United States as part of a refugee resettlement, starting over in Washington state more than 30 years ago. They found modest jobs, Chea as a landscaper and Sreap caring for the gardens outside their apartment, said their grandson, Von Seng.

Chea and Sreap's family grew, with children and grandchildren. They moved to Alaska because, members of their family said, they heard it was a good place to grow old. They spent their days caring for Seng's two children and watching TV. They waited each day for "Jeopardy" and "Wheel of Fortune."

On Saturday night, police say, the couple was killed in an Anchorage apartment by a stranger, Jerry Andrew Active, who climbed into their home through an open window. Active, 24, had been released from jail that same day after serving time related to a conviction for attempted sexual abuse of a minor. Sreap was sexually assaulted, police said. Her 2-year-old great-granddaughter was sexually assaulted and required surgery. The child's 91-year-old great-great-grandmother, Sreap Yan, who suffers from dementia, was also in the apartment as the attacks occurred.

On Tuesday, in another apartment in Mountain View, Yan lay on a mattress on the living room floor, her thin wrists covered with bruises. Nobody knows how she got them. Friends and family from Anchorage's Cambodian community came and went, offering food and sympathies.

The community is small, perhaps 40 families at most, said Hank Moth, a community organizer who was helping to plan a fundraiser for the family Wednesday night at the Northway Mall. Everyone knew Chea and Sreap, he said. There aren't many Khmer elders here, so many people adopted them. Everyone called them "yiey," for grandma and "tha" for grandpa, he said. Chea and Sreap did their best to help anyone who needed it, people who knew them said. They donated what money they had to community causes. They always had sweets to share with visitors. They were famous for their pickles and Cambodian preserved salmon.

"It's a ripple," said Jordan Kiv, another visiting family friend. "It touches everyone's hearts."

Pak Seng, Von Seng's mother, has been caring for Yan since the attacks. Yan collapsed and had to spend a night in the hospital, Seng said. They are hoping she will soon be healthy enough to travel to Washington state, where other family members will care for her. Yan cannot communicate what she saw in the apartment, Pak Seng said, but she has been pointing at the door, saying, "Don't come!" She keeps asking why there are so many people in the house.

Pak Seng, who works at Providence Alaska Medical Center in housekeeping, was close to Chea and Sreap, she said. They are the parents of her former husband. She also fled Cambodia as a girl. She moved to Alaska to be near them and talked to the couple daily. On Tuesday, she carried their IDs in her wallet. They called her if any emergency happened or if they had health problems, she said.

On the night of the murder, she was on her way to the house to bring wild greens she'd picked at Kincaid Park. If she had come any earlier, she would have found their bodies. Instead, her son, Von Seng and his wife, Minesoreta "Lisa" Seng, discovered the scene. They were coming home from a movie with their 4-year-old son. Von and Lisa fought Active in the house and called police, Von said. He fled and was caught by police a few blocks away.

Von and Lisa Seng spent Tuesday afternoon in a basement courtroom in the Nesbett Courthouse, waiting for Active to be led in for a hearing. They sat in the front row holding hands, flanked by members of her extended family. They wanted to see Active. They wanted him to face them, but he chose to waive his court appearance. They left disappointed. His next hearing is scheduled for June 5.

"I just don't understand," Von said later. "Even if you are a criminal, you don't do such a horrible crime."

His 2-year-old daughter had left the hospital after the surgery but had to be taken back Monday night because of pain, he said.

The things he had seen Saturday were still fresh in his memory, a jumble of horrifying scenes. His grandparents. His daughter. Staring into Active's eyes as he and his wife fought him. He'd told the story many times, but what happened still made no sense. The facts of it were too hard to process.

"I saw my grandmother there, her face, it was horrible. It was something you can't even imagine," he said.

Von works seasonally as a prep cook at O'Malleys on the Green, he said. His wife is a nursing assistant. Most of his life, his house had been filled with elders, his grandparents and great grandmother, he said. His grandparents were gentle and generous, he said. They just wanted to live a peaceful life in this country.

"They were just really wonderful people," he said.

An account for funeral donations has been set up at Wells Fargo Bank under the name Pak Seng. A benefit concert for the family is scheduled for Wednesday at 6 p.m. at the Northway Mall. Find information at facebook.com/RallyAnchorage.

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Julia O'Malley can be reached at 257-4591 or jomalley@adn.com. Anchorage Daily News reporter Michelle Theriault-Boots can be reached at 257-4344 mtheriault@adn.com.

 

 

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