The victim was identified Friday as My-Linh Nguyen, 45, who is survived by her husband and 15-year-old son.
My-Linh Nguyen was steps from her front door Thursday night when she was shot during a struggle over her purse, becoming the first fatality in a rash of street robberies in the Rainier Valley over the past 4 ½ months, many of them targeting people of Asian descent, according to Seattle police.
Nguyen, 45, had taken public transit from her job at a downtown nail salon and was walking to her home near 39th Avenue South and South Warsaw Street around 8:30 p.m. when she was attacked, Assistant Police Chief Robert Merner said at a news briefing on Friday.
Merner said there’s evidence Nguyen fought with the man who tried to grab her purse and she was shot multiple times about three doors down from her house.
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She was taken to Harborview Medical Center, where she died from her injuries. She is survived by her husband and 15-year-old son, Merner said.
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Ballistic testing on shell casings left at the scene is under way and police are searching for video-surveillance footage on routes into and out of Nguyen’s neighborhood, said Merner. So far though, he said police do not have a detailed description of the shooter.
Vietnamese-speaking officers have been assigned to work around the clock so they’re available to Nguyen’s family and help the homicide, robbery, gang and major crimes detectives working the case, Merner said.
There have been 62 street robberies reported to police in the South Precinct since late summer, but only a dozen of them involved assailants armed with guns, Merner said. Police have arrested 47 people — 24 juveniles and 23 adults — in that time in connection with street robberies. The vast majority of the suspects are male and nine of them are repeat offenders, he said.
“These are crimes of opportunity,” Merner said. “These cowards are targeting the most vulnerable of our community.”
Twenty-six of the victims were women and five were men of Asian descent, the majority of them 50 or older, according to Merner. He said police think they’re being targeted due to a belief that they’re likely to be carrying large amounts of cash.
Many victims have reported suspicions that they were followed after getting off Metro buses or light rail and police are looking into that possibility as part of the investigation into Nguyen’s killing, he said.
In the spring, police noticed an uptick in what Merner called “chain snaps.” A suspect would knock a victim to the ground, then yank free his or her gold chain before running off. Now purse snatchings are becoming more frequent, with assailants also stealing backpacks and cellphones, said Merner.
“Of course, they’re afraid to go out of night,” Linh Thach, the police department’s liaison with the Asian community, said of the people he serves.
Months ago, a task force of robbery and gang detectives was created to closely work with South Precinct officers — and they last met on Monday. Additionally, the South Precinct’s Anti-Crime Team has been focused on identifying hot spots and responding to shots fired calls and street robberies, said Lt. Matt Allen.
“We’re putting officers on overtime to work these particular areas,” he said.
Allen noted that police have published personal-safety pamphlets in a variety of languages, including Vietnamese and Chinese, and have printed ads in community newspapers to warn people they may be vulnerable to robbery. The department’s 911 dispatchers also have access to a language translation service to help all victims, regardless of which language they speak, he said.
He asked people to report any suspicious activity, even if it’s only a small amount of information such as a partial license plate number or clothing description because combined with other reports, those bits of information can enable police to tie things together.
In early 2008, Seattle police noted a similar uptick in such crimes targeting women of Asian descent in the Beacon Hill area and increased patrols.
As for victims of street robberies, Allen said, “If you’re confronted in this way … you don’t want to resist. Property can be replaced, lives cannot. When faced with a deadly threat, turn it over and call 911 as soon as possible.”
Anyone with information about Nguyen’s homicide is asked to call the Seattle Police Department’s tip line, 206-233-5000, or Crime Stoppers, 1-800-222-TIPS (8477).
And neighbors of Nguyen are fundraising online to help her family cover expenses after her death.