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Originally published Sunday, April 5, 2009 at 12:00 AM

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Gunman had lost job, felt "degraded"

Jiverly Wong, 41, another immigrant from Vietnam who had taken classes at the center to improve his English, burst in wearing body armor and firing two handguns.

The New York Times

BINGHAMTON, N.Y. — On Friday morning, like most every Friday for the past eight years, Con Thi Thach woke up, took her pills and left her home on Baxter Street in a rush to catch the bus for her 10 a.m. English class at the American Civic Association.

She ran in late, as usual, to the ground-floor classroom at the end of the hallway, where immigrants from Vietnam, Haiti, China, Kurdistan and Russia were taking turns trying to discern the meaning of the phrase "in the black." Some thought it might relate to the black market, others were puzzled about why a color would have any other meaning.

Then, their pursuit of the American dream collided with the nightmare of a mass killing. "Pop, pop, pop," Thach said in a single breath, re-enacting the terrifying events while in her living room a day later.

Jiverly Wong, 41, another immigrant from Vietnam who had taken classes at the center to improve his English, burst in wearing body armor and firing two handguns.

Wong, who was upset over losing his job at a vacuum-cleaner plant and once angrily told a co-worker, "America sucks," killed 13 fellow students and employees of the civic association and critically wounded four others before committing suicide, police said.

"At one point in his thinking process, he was going to take the police on, or at least try to stop us from stopping him," Joseph Zikuski, Binghamton's police chief, said Saturday, referring to Wong's bullet-resistant vest. "He must have been a coward," Zikuski added. "When he heard the sirens, he decided to take his own life."

Described as a loner

Several people who worked with Wong, at a local Shop-Vac vacuum-cleaner factory, on an IBM assembly line and at a sushi-delivery company in California, variously described him as a loner and as someone who kept to himself because of his limited English.

At Shop-Vac, which closed the day before Thanksgiving, he was known as Wong and wore jeans and T-shirts emblazoned with New York Yankees logos.

David Ackley, who worked with Wong at Shop-Vac for more than a year, said Wong, who also used the alias Jiverly Voong, would often say on Mondays that he had spent the weekend on the firing range and had once joked about shooting politicians.

"I asked him who he was going to vote for, and he said, 'I don't really care, I'd shoot both of them,' " recalled Ackley, whose father, Donald, also worked at Shop-Vac.

When the elder Ackley responded, "You better watch out, I'm going to call the FBI," he said Saturday, Wong responded, "I'm just joking around."

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Not so Friday, when the police said Wong said nothing as he shot the civic association's two receptionists, killing one and sending the other, Shirley DeLucia, under her desk, where she played dead and surreptitiously dialed 911 on a cellphone.

Then he entered the nearest classroom and resumed shooting.

Down the hall was Thach, 53, who immigrated from Vietnam in 1990 and has seven children. She said her class of 14 bolted through a door in the back of the room to a storage area filled with a refrigerator and tables.

When the police said it was safe, Thach and her classmates filed out of the storage room one by one, putting their hands on their heads, as the officers had instructed.

Thach said she did not know Wong. The police said Saturday that he had recently been taking classes at the civic association, which was founded in 1939 by former immigrants, until he dropped out the first week of March.

Some not surprised

Zikuski said that investigators were working to better understand Wong's motivation, but that some people close to him were not surprised by his actions.

"He felt that he was degraded because of his inability to speak English, and he was upset about that," Zikuski said of Wong, who was unmarried and lived with his parents and a sister.

Hue Huynh, a clerk at a Vietnamese market, said her husband worked with Wong on the IBM assembly line in Endicott, N.Y., many years ago, and that when the couple saw him at a gym this week, he said he was surviving on $200 a week in unemployment benefits.

"He said he tried to find a job but nobody like him," Huynh said. "He was a nice boy. He had bad luck. He went everywhere, but no good job for him."

Huynh said he had moved to California years ago. There, he worked for seven years at a caterer called Kikka Sushi, eventually making $9 an hour, said Paulus Lukas, the company's human-resources manager.

"He was really good at doing his job; we respected him for that," Lukas told the Los Angeles Times.

But one day he didn't show up for work, Lukas told the Los Angeles Times. Last year, he called asking the company to send his tax forms to a New York state address. Back in New York, he worked at the Binghamton Shop-Vac plant.

Some victims of Friday's shooting left violent homelands only to be slain in the quiet city at the confluence of the Susquehanna and Chenango rivers.

Layla Khalil, an Iraqi woman in her 50s, arrived after surviving three car bombings, said Imam Kasim Kopuz, leader of the Islamic Organization of the Southern Tier.

She had three children, including a son who is a doctoral student at the Sorbonne in Paris, a daughter who is a Fulbright scholar at Binghamton University and a son in high school.

Dolores Yigal, a recent touchdown from the Philippines who also died, was learning English there, said her husband, Omri Yigal.

Police arrived at Omri Yigal's house late Saturday to tell him his wife was among the dead.

Lubomyr Zobniw was still waiting Saturday to hear information about his wife, Maria, who came to the U.S. from Ukraine as a child and was a part-time caseworker at the Civic Association.

Zobniw said his wife was supposed to be off Friday but was called in. "When your parents go away, it's one thing, but for someone who wants to help the world,... " he said, trailing off.

Police also identified Roberta King, 72, a substitute teacher, as among the dead.

DeLucia, the wounded receptionist, and the three others shot Friday remained hospitalized.

Material from The Associated Press is included in this report.

Copyright © 2009 The Seattle Times Company

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