Donnie Chin protected his community without fanfare, few resources and with an outsized heart. His killing is a huge loss for Seattle's Chinatown-International District.

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Last Thursday, Seattle’s Chinatown-International District lost its one-man emergency-response system.

For nearly 50 years, Donald “Donnie” Chin patrolled the neighborhood and survived on modest means in pursuit of keeping his community safe. He became a model for how to engage with an ethnic community whose residents often struggle with limited English skills.

Donnie was Chinatown’s eyes and ears. A trusted friend to those within and a guide to those from the outside, especially medics, police officers and firefighters

When non-English-speaking elders felt sick or dehydrated, they bypassed 911 and called Donnie for help.

From the archives

See a profile of Donnie Chin that ran in The Seattle Times in 1991  

More on Donnie Chin


Gifts in Chin’s memory

Donations may be made on Chin’s behalf to the International District Emergency Center, via the Seattle Foundation’s IDEC page.

When property managers heard an alarm go off, they asked Donnie to check.

When police and fire departments arrived at the scene of an incident, they relied on Donnie to relay the victim’s problems.

And when a dispute between rival groups reportedly broke out in the early hours of Thursday morning, they knew Donnie would be there — probably trying to mediate.

He had saved so many lives before. But this time, under circumstances yet to be understood, Donnie’s dedication to his neighborhood ended in the worst possible way.

Whoever shot Donnie to death also may have killed the International District Emergency Center (IDEC), which Donnie ran almost single-handedly on donations and grants.

“We will never find anyone to step into that role,” says Maiko Winkler-Chin, a friend and executive director of the Seattle Chinatown International District Preservation and Development Authority. “Donnie never got married. Donnie lived down here. He never slept. I never expected this to happen. I never expected anyone else to step into that role because we asked too much. And he gave too much.”

Police must find Donnie’s killer and seek justice. Anyone with tips should call the homicide line at 206-233-5000.

“Uncle Bob” Santos, a legendary community elder and activist in his own right, says it’s sad enough to lose an icon. But it would be even worse, in Donnie’s absence, to allow thugs to take over Chinatown-International District’s hard-fought efforts to become a thriving, safe space for all.

“We have to get more people on the street. We need to revive our businesses,” he reminds us. “And since Donnie isn’t around, we have to look out for each other.”