SALINAS -- Flowers, candles and handwritten notes placed outside a convenience store in East Salinas narrated the grief felt by neighbors and members of the tight-knit Korean community in the wake of the death of Sook Mi Oh from injuries incurred during a brutal robbery.

In just 10 minutes, about four people -- some strangers and others acquaintances of Oh's -- visited the memorial Thursday morning to say a small prayer or light a candle.

Korean Presbyterian Church on Garner Avenue, where Oh attended, is reaching out to Oh's niece and brother-in-law with food and moral support, said Joung Han, the wife of the pastor. Supporting members of the Korean community are mourning her death.

Oh, a woman in her mid-50s, was with two of her closest friends when two men armed with handguns barged into Hot Stop market on Williams Road on Friday night. The men shot all three of them, but Oh was struck several more times than her friends and later died from those injuries.

Police are calling Oh's homicide "one of the most brutal homicides" they've ever seen in Salinas. In an attempt to help find the violent suspects, police released the surveillance video from the shooting Wednesday night.

A few of Oh's friends and family members were saddened and disturbed after watching the explicit video spanning a little more than a minute.

Chul He Kim, a friend of Oh's for more than 30 years, said the video broke her heart.


Advertisement

The two women met when Oh immigrated to the U.S. with her husband. Kim taught her some English, because she only knew Korean, and introduced her to the "small Korean family" in East Salinas. She called herself a motherly figure to her and a good friend.

When asked about her thoughts on the video, she turned her gaze to the ground and it took her a few seconds to talk.

"They were mean to my friend and they were angry," Kim said about the men shown shooting and beating Oh several times. "Then they blast the gun and I ask, for what?" Oh's niece, Jannet Oh, said her aunt was a very shy and soft-spoken woman. Kim also said she was so thin and petite "you could blow and she would fly away." The video displayed two men, one armed with a red box cutter and another with a revolver, covering their faces with black masks. One of the suspects beat and shot Oh several times, "showing no mercy," Kim said.

"The last day of the sweetest, most gentle person. This is why I am heartbroken," she said.

Oh had been a widow for 10 years and left three grown children behind when she died.

"She was alone in her life and she was visiting her closest friends that night. So sad," she said.

Her niece is starting a fundraiser to boost the reward for whoever helps police find the suspects who killed her aunt and her two friends, all "innocent bystanders." Oh is hoping to raise up to $20,000 and started raising money Thursday afternoon.

"Violence in Salinas is getting out of control. The fact that you can't make an honest living because we're scared for our lives is sad," Oh said.

Meanwhile, 68-year-old Kim, who works at a nearby convenience store on Laurel Street -- similar to Hot Stop -- said she's not too worried about this happening to her. In fact, she is confident that by building a mother-like relationship with the "young kids running the block" she is safe.

"I learned Spanish to communicate with them and gave special attention to them because they had struggle in their heart," Kim said. "If I'm in danger or something happen, they protect me." Employees at La Hacienda, right next to Hot Stop, did not share that opinion. Instead, they said that it's important to always work in pairs and only leave one door open for customers to walk through and have the surveillance camera always pointing at the entrance to steer criminals away from the shop.

Oh's funeral will be held this weekend, but family and friends do not want to specify where and when it will be. They fear the suspects, as violent as they appeared to be on the video, will retaliate against the family mourning the "loving mother of three."

Contact Herald reporter Ana Ceballos at aceballos@montereyherald.com or 831-726-4377. Follow her on Twitter @ceballosap.