Ocean Shores Killing Leaves Citizens Caught In Between

Tragedy pits white supremacists vs. civil rights groups

Seattle Post/July 15, 2000
By Hector Castro and Robert L. Jamieson Jr.

Ocean Shores -- In a flash it was over: One man was dying, three men were fleeing a bloodied parking lot in fear, and this quiet beach community, where residents rarely lock their bicycles, was stunned.

But the killing of Christopher Kinison, a white man allegedly stabbed to death by an Asian man he showered with racial slurs, continues to pulse through this local tourist mecca.

The July 4 slaying has drawn attention from white supremacist groups on one side and human rights organizations on the other. And, caught uncomfortably in between, are townspeople who insist the community is not racist.

"It won't go away," said Randy Deibel, who witnessed the fatal stabbing. "I can't get away from it."

Kinison's death has done more than prompt civic soul-searching about race. It has forced the Ocean Shores Police Department to grapple with only the second homicide in the city's 30-year history.

At the same time, some have questioned the decision by county prosecutors to charge Minh Duc Hong with first-degree manslaughter -- not murder.

And yesterday, police shed new light on the violent morning by releasing a 911 dispatch tape. Minh Duc Hong's twin brother, Hung Hong, called from the lobby of the Shilo Inn, a hotel one-half mile from the Texaco gas station, where they had been in a fight.

"I went to try to get something to eat and we were getting harassed by some American kids," Hung Duc Hong told the dispatcher. "They were like racist stuff. Calling us gooks and stuff."

He added the attackers were "yelling white power and punched me in the face."

Kinison's death perplexes some in the town. They are trying to balance memories of their friend who had a wild side -- but also a tender soul. Once, Kinison bought long-stemmed roses for a good friend's wife; he also could be counted on in a pinch if someone needed help moving furniture.

"His reward was just a smile and a thank you. He was content with that, never asking for money or saying, 'You owe me one,'" said Jenni Helm, a friend.

Kinison's grandmother, Mary Lindau, had difficulty believing her grandson was a racist.

"My son-in-law is a Negro," she explained. "The remarks (Kinison made about the Hongs) are remarks I've heard from other people, who should have known better. Orientals, I think, sometimes get judged pretty harshly. I don't know where he got that."

But a friend said he wasn't surprised Kinison might have started the fight -- or even that he used racist jibes to do it. He was just surprised Kinison died.

"I did not think he would ever go down," said James Bohrn. "I've seen him take down 40-year-old guys."

Some people interviewed yesterday did not feel Kinison had to die. "There was never anybody else after them," said Deibel, who saw the Hongs and their friend, De Qiang Chen, fighting Kinison. "They could easily have beat him up, got in their car and left."

But a Seattle friend of the Hongs, who are 26, said the young men are good-natured and hardworking. The Hongs graduated from Interlake High School in Bellevue and attended Bellevue Community College, before going to work at a family restaurant.

"Just nice kids," the friend said.

Monte Hester, the defense attorney for Minh Duc Hong, said the brothers faced a rapidly escalating situation of "sheer terror," magnified because Kinison waved a Confederate flag; some people view the flag as a symbol of racism.

Professor Robert Crutchfield, chair of the University of Washington's sociology department, agrees.

"I don't think it's unusual for a person of color, when confronted with that flag to fear bodily harm," Crutchfield said. "It's not surprising that they (the Hong brothers) had a strong reaction."

Question of self defense

Kinison had brushes with the law, including one conviction for possession of a dangerous weapon; in 1997, he was investigated for racially harassing a group of African American youths, but no charges were filed.

White supremacist groups said Kinison's history of trouble -- and even his taunting of the Hongs -- were no reasons for 22 knife stabs; they assailed the Hong brothers' claim of self-defense.

"Now we have a situation where if you are a minority you can murder a European American and walk free," said David Jensen, spokesman for the Western Washington chapter of the National Organization for European American Rights.

The local chapter, which is about three months old, claims more than 200 paid members. It is part of the national group started by David Duke, a former Imperial Wizard of the Ku Klux Klan.

"I know what's right and what's wrong, and so far I have seen a violation of (Kinison's) rights," said Jensen, who plans to attend the trial this fall. If necessary, he said, Duke could also come to Washington State.

"Kinison is taking the long dirt nap right now, and these two men are working at a restaurant, having a grand old time," Jensen said.

However, Eric Ward of the Northwest Coalition for Human Dignity said the group is exploiting bigotry.

"David Duke is not a measure of moral aptitude in our society," Ward said. "David Duke is a white supremacist, and like his physical facelift, he is also trying to facelift his rhetoric, because he knows overt bigotry does not sell."

Last night, Grays Harbor Prosecutor H. Steward Menefee said that the first-degree manslaughter charge filed in the case was right.

Minh Duc Hong, of Seattle, is free on $20,000 bond. Prosecutors did not charge his brother, Hung Duc Hong, who allegedly held Kinison while his brother stabbed him. Chen, too, was not charged.

"I don't think it is appropriate for any group to try to use this situation to inflame racial tensions," Menefee said.

Ocean Shores residents do not want Duke's group involved in the matter. "We don't need that," one resident said.

When David McManus, a sergeant with the Ocean Shores Police Department, heard that the National Organization for European American Rights might visit the community, he joked: "Got any job openings in Seattle?"

Indeed, several people interviewed do not see a broad-based racial problem in Ocean Shores.

"We are a small town. We'd see signs of something if it was building up," said McManus. "Everybody knows everybody."

'Anything to start a fight'

Kinison's tauntings of the Hongs, witnesses said, were steeped in ignorance and post-adolescent brashness. In a county in which 91 percent of residents are white, there were few minorities for him to offend.

Friends said he did not mind a fight -- and sometimes used his mouth to ignite one.

"They didn't believe what they said," Deibel said of Kinison and his friends. "They would say anything to start a fight."

Around town, Kinison and his friends were part of a crew that frequented local streets and beaches to drink and have fun.

Other options for young people are few, some said.

What it is like in Ocean Shores past midnight most evenings?

"Dead," said 18-year-old James Troyell, as he hung out with friends by the locked doors of a closed bowling alley late one recent evening.

The main drag, Chance a la Mer, begins at the Pacific Ocean and rolls into the heart of the town. Most business along it are in the first half-mile, beginning with the massive Shilo Inn, and ending at Point Brown Avenue, where the 24-hour Texaco gas station and market sits.

Between the hotel and gas station, shops sell kites, rent scooters, and cater to the ever-present tourists.

The street most nights is quiet until 1:30 a.m. -- until last call arrives at The Legend Inn, a tavern along Chance a la Mer.

Then, the rush is on. Bar patrons make a quick dash to the Texaco for a last-minute beer before sales end at 1:45 a.m.

"The only thing going on is the 24-hour Texaco," said Philip Tanguy, 18, a friend of Kinison's.

But, several Ocean Shores residents said that the town fills up in the nights leading up to the Fourth of July. "It's always a local's worst nightmare," a resident said.

During the summer holidays, the town's population swells from more than 3,500 residents to 80,000 visitors.

And the Fourth of July holiday was no different.

Last pair of knives

Deibel, a 27-year-old construction worker, was out to retrieve his truck, which had broken down at the Texaco.

He ran into Kinison, who was with three friends. Kinison had a Confederate flag draped around shoulders. "I don't know why those guys had that flag," Deibel said.

Later, just before 2 a.m., a group of up to 20 people had gathered at the Texaco, friends and strangers, mingling in a holiday party atmosphere.

Kinison soon stood apart from the crowd, witnesses said -- and that's when Minh Duc Hong, his brother and Chen drove up in their gold Honda.

"You could tell they were not from around here," Deibel said, referring to the flashy color of the car.

Kinison began to taunt the trio, even when friends told him to stop because an Ocean Shores police officer had passed by earlier.

Once inside the market, Minh Duc Hong grabbed a pair of 4-inch kitchen knives, packaged for sale and hooked on a peg board near a kite display.

It was the last pair in the store.

Hong, his brother and friend left the store and got into the car. Hester said the brothers and their friend wanted to leave, but were blocked by Kinison, who barred the car's path.

Witnesses said Kinison stepped close to the car and waved his flag, but did not block it. The taunts continued, and witnesses said the men stepped out of the car.

"I could hear Chris say, 'I'll take both of you on,'" Deibel said.

Away from the main crowd, one of Kinison's friends fought Chen; meanwhile Kinison allegedly took on the two brothers. Most in the crowd, who were several dozen feet away, were unaware of the severity of the fight.

No one knew about the knife.

It was soon clear Kinison was losing his fight, and Deibel thought the young man "had enough" so he walked toward him. At the same time, Kinison broke free and ran toward Deibel's truck.

The Hongs stared at Deibel, then ran with Chen to the Honda.

Only then -- did people realize the worst had happened.

Some girls screamed.

Friends took off shirts to stop the blood. Kinison then leaned over the bed of a truck, and uttered what were among his last words: "It hurts."

The 911 tape

At 2:27 a.m. on July 4, a clerk at the Shilo Inn in Ocean Shores called 911 after she saw Hung Duc Hong, his brother and a friend race back to the motel after the incident at the gas station.

Here are excerpts from that call.

Clerk: "He was apparently beaten by a person outside the hotel."

Dispatcher: "Is he right there with you? Can I talk to him really quick? We just had a really bad assault down at the Texaco."

Hung Hong: "I went to try to get something to eat and we were getting harassed by some American kids. They were like racist stuff. Calling us gooks and stuff. One of them punched me."

The dispatcher then asked Hong how many others were involved in the fight.

Hung Hong: "After they punched me, my glasses fell off and I couldn't see. He hit my car and stuff, too.

"I'm really afraid, because they are really racist and they have a whole group. I'm afraid to leave the hotel right now.

"They were waving like Dukes of Hazzard flags and stuff. They were yelling white power and punched me in the face.

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