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Originally published September 7, 2006 at 12:00 AM | Page modified September 7, 2006 at 4:11 PM

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Corrected version

23 years haven't erased grief caused by Wah Mee Massacre

The man in the neat blue sport coat walked slowly into the room, his head held high, mouth set in a firm line. Behind the microphone minutes...

Seattle Times staff reporter

The man in the neat blue sport coat walked slowly into the room, his head held high, mouth set in a firm line.

Behind the microphone minutes later, he crumbled.

Through tears, Jason Loui, 38, told how he was a sophomore in high school when his stepfather was gunned down inside Seattle's Wah Mee social club. That bloody day 23 years ago hijacked Loui's life, transforming a carefree teen into the "man of the house" and later into a husband and father struggling to suppress the dark memories of the past.

"I've had to survive," choked Loui. "It's been a long path."

The lives of Loui and other relatives of the Wah Mee Massacre victims unfolded Wednesday in a King County Courthouse conference room like the brittle pages of a history book: weddings, births, deaths, holidays, bouts of depression, opportunities seized and missed, and always, the graveside visits.

Before three strangers on a state parole board, they bared themselves: a son who long ago moved away but is still haunted by his hometown; a daughter who shrinks from gunfire on television; a family matriarch longing for her love.

With cracking voices and trembling breaths, the families broke years of silence in hopes of persuading the parole board not to bring Tony Ng, one of the perpetrators of Seattle's deadliest mass shooting, any closer to freedom.

Ng, who was convicted of 13 counts of first-degree robbery and one count of second-degree assault with a deadly weapon for his role in the 1983 robbery and slaying of 13 victims at the Wah Mee gambling club in the Chinatown International District, was sentenced to a minimum of five years in prison for most of the robbery counts.

Under the state's old sentencing guidelines, as Ng completed sentences for each count, he began serving time for the next.

Ng is now serving time for the next-to-last count. This month, the state's Indeterminate Sentence Review Board is considering granting Ng parole, which would allow him to begin serving time for the final count. He could then be eligible for release from prison in 2010.

The other two assailants, Kwan Fai "Willie" Mak and Benjamin Ng (no relation to Tony Ng), were convicted of multiple counts of murder and are serving life sentences without possibility of parole.

Learning Tony Ng was up for parole was like opening an old wound, relatives of his victims said Wednesday. Scarred by the shock of the crime, media attention and years of trials, appeals and endless intrusions into their personal grief, many have been reluctant to speak about the massacre.

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Even among friends and families, the topic is often taboo, witnesses said.

"We want to forget," said Linda Mar, daughter of victims Jean and Moo Min Mar. "We do not want to keep reliving this tragedy."

They also spoke of the larger impact of a crime they say still haunts their community.

Wah Mee was an exclusive gambling and social club with an alleyway entrance and high security. But after Feb. 18, 1983, when three men entered the club, hogtied the 14 occupants — one of whom survived — robbed them and shot each in the head, Wah Mee was often miscast as a seedy gambling den, perpetuating stereotypes that burdened Chinatown residents years after the massacre.

"The perception of Chinatown remains colored," Jeff Lew, son of victim Wing Wong, wrote in a letter to the board.

But it was the telling of their most personal sorrows that brought tears to the faces of those who testified, men and women who trudged into the Seattle courthouse with new gray hairs and old photos of loved ones lost 23 years ago. "I will never be able to consult them on our family history, or benefit from their wisdom, or share the camaraderie of being middle-aged," lamented Tony Chinn, who lost his sister and brother-in-law.

Larry Chin described a father who came to America at 16, worked his way from dishwasher to cook, all the while dreaming of owning his own restaurant — a dream never realized. Instead, Chong Chin found the smallest pleasures where he could, such as in the gambling club where his life ended so violently, his son said.

"That was his chance of achieving material things, his piece of the American pie. His chance to relax after a day at the hot stove," said Larry Chin, who testified via a conference call from Hawaii.

As he talked about his own three children, and the missed opportunity to know their grandfather, Chin began to sob. "I often fantasize on holidays, special events," he confessed, "what it would be like if he was with us."

Chin is so haunted by the memories of the massacre that he has only visited Seattle and the Chinatown International District where he grew up three times in the past 20 years.

King County Prosecutor Norm Maleng and former Seattle Police Chief Patrick Fitzsimons both urged the board not to grant parole, saying the crime was one of the worst they'd ever seen. "It's almost surreal that we're talking about the possibility that sometime soon" Ng could walk free, Maleng said.

Under modern sentencing laws, Ng would serve about 80 years for the same crimes, and the board should aim for a similar sentence, Maleng advised.

More than a dozen family members attended the hearing Wednesday. Some declined to speak publicly, choosing instead to talk privately to the board. Others sent letters.

Many expressed anger that they weren't informed when Ng had been paroled, though not released, after completing earlier sentences. They told the board that they were never contacted each time Ng completed serving time for one count and began serving time on the next, effectively coming closer to possible release.

"I find it appalling," wrote Lew. "Recall the gravity and heinous nature of what occurred."

The board, composed of one member appointed 12 years ago and two appointed in the past two years, apologized to the families for their pain but said it couldn't discuss past parole decisions.

The board will meet with Ng on Sept. 13 and release its decision in four to six weeks, Board Chair Jeralita Costa said.

In requesting a parole denial for Ng, witnesses asked the board members to put themselves in the family members' shoes. Imagine, they said, that a horrific act of violence tore apart their neighborhood, their families, their sense of security.

Then, they urged, picture the perpetrator suddenly walking down the street once again, near your business, your home, your children.

"Everyone is given the opportunity to make choices, and Tony Ng made the wrong choice," said Hazel Chin, daughter of Chong Chin. "I will never be at peace knowing Tony Ng is back on the streets. I ask you to grant us the justice we deserve."

Natalie Singer: 206-464-2704

or nsinger@seattletimes.com

Information in this article, originally published September 7, was corrected September 7. In an earlier version of this story, the name of Tony Chinn was misspelled due to incorrect information provided by the King County Prosecutor's Office.

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