Va Ger Vang eluded death on the battlefields of Southeast Asia and in Thai refugee camps even as it claimed family members and friends all around him. But death caught up to him Jan. 11 in a foggy central Fresno alley.
Va Ger Vang, 63, was beaten to death just feet from his home early on a Sunday morning by a man police say is a Bulldog gang member. Francisco Garcia, 22, faces murder charges.
The irony that Va Ger Vang was brutally slain in the land where he came seeking safety from violence and conflict doesn't escape his friends.
"Never thought this could happen," said Charlie Vang, Va Ger Vang's Hmong comrade in the battle against communist troops in Laos. "He thought Thailand would not be safe."
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The Hmong community is mourning Va Ger Vang's death in a traditional funeral that begins today at United Chapel, 1146 B Street, and continues through the weekend.
Thursday, the community gathered in the small apartment he shared with his wife, Yeng Xiong, 45, and two children near Belmont Avenue and Abby Street.
Outside, food was prepared on propane burners under a blue plastic tarp as rain drizzled down. Inside, other veterans of the Laos war, some still wearing camouflage jackets, spoke quietly about their friend.
"He was a very friendly person who liked to help the community," said Youa Vang, who translated for other community members. "He performed shamanism. He could make utensils for farming from scratch."
Va Ger Vang was recalled as one of the last Hmong fighters to abandon the idea that their land could be wrested from the Pathet Lao.
He reached Thailand in 1979. Among those who never made it were his first wife, Dia Lor, and three of their five children. Va Ger Vang's second wife, Sai Xiong, died in a Thai refugee camp.
Stanley said Va Ger Vang's slaying has caused extreme hardship for his wife and two children, Ka, 9, and Thai, 12. Without his income, the family will have barely enough money to pay rent.
"She's worried what she will do," Stanley said. "She doesn't feel safe in that neighborhood."
Police have issued only sketchy details on Va Ger Vang's slaying and have not described a motive. Stanley said the family apparently was a recent victim of some burglaries. Police were able to recover some items, and Va Ger Vang may have been attacked in retaliation.