Beloved community leader Donald "Donnie" Chin, killed early Thursday, is remembered as a hero of Seattle’s Chinatown International District.

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For almost 50 years, Donnie Chin would don his khaki uniform and offer whatever he had — his food, his protection, his money or his time — to people in the Chinatown International District.

When he was just a junior-high-schooler, Chin started tuning into a police radio in an effort to help his beloved neighborhood. He beat ambulances and police cruisers to those in need — more than once performing CPR until formal help arrived.

Early Thursday, the 59-year-old man was shot and killed in the neighborhood he spent his life protecting. No arrests have been made, and Seattle Police Chief Kathleen O’Toole said the department will “work tirelessly to bring his killer to justice.”

“If there was anyone who could be called the superhero of Chinatown it would be Donnie,” said friend Kathy Hsieh, who works in Seattle’s Office for Arts & Culture. “He was one of those unsung heroes. He did this because he believed in it, not because anyone was paying him for it.”

Almost single-handedly, Mr. Chin managed the International District Emergency Center (IDEC). The center, which was his sole place of employment since he was a teenager, survived on donations and grants.

In an interview in 1991, Mr. Chin recalled creating an early version of the center with friend Dean Wong in the late 1960s after they saw the need for emergency services were not being met. Mr. Chin said 911 service had not been established and private ambulance companies were slow.

“We patrolled the ID to make sure the seniors were safe,” Wong said Thursday. “We would visit homebound seniors and bring food and give canned goods to the homeless.”

In addition to calls about medical emergencies, Mr. Chin would respond to reports about people sleeping in the streets, stolen items, electrical blackouts, lost kids and locked cars.

Dr. Michael Copass, the former medical director of Seattle Medic One, said in the same 1991 Seattle Times story that Mr. Chin often beat paramedics to trauma victims and even “started CPR (cardiopulmonary resuscitation) more than any one person in town.”

Copass said some of his elderly patients would take prescriptions to Mr. Chin, who would make sure they took their medication regularly.

“He’s the county drugstore, sheriff, police and fire department all rolled into one,” Copass said in 1991.

Over the years, Mr. Chin developed a tight relationship with medics, firefighters and police officers. Seattle police Capt. Eric Sano said Thursday that in the more than 20 years he knew Mr. Chin, he considered him to be “a good friend and a tremendous asset to the Chinatown International District.”

From the archives

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

More on Donnie Chin

International District Emergency Center director Donnie Chin was recently honored by OCA-Greater Seattle with a Golden Circle Award. (Photo courtesy of International Examiner)
International District Emergency Center director Donnie Chin was recently honored by OCA-Greater Seattle with a Golden Circle Award. (Photo courtesy of International Examiner)
 

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.

Seattle police said they were called to the area of Eighth Avenue South and South Weller Street just before 3 a.m. for a report of the shooting. Police found a wounded man inside a car with shot-out windows.

Donald “Donnie” Chin, head of the International District Emergency Center, was killed in a shooting early Thursday morning. (The Seattle Times)
Donald “Donnie” Chin, head of the International District Emergency Center, was killed in a shooting early Thursday morning. (The Seattle Times)

The man, later identified as Mr. Chin, was taken to Harborview Medical Center in critical condition. He died a short time later. Police do not believe he was the intended target of the shooting.

“We’re asking if anyone has information, or video, to contact SPD,” Assistant Chief Robert Merner said. “We have multiple teams from the homicide unit, West Precinct, our video-recovery unit and crime-scene investigation team on this.”

Anyone with information is asked to call the homicide tip line at 206-233-5000.

“The people he dealt with, in terms of the street element, they were primarily car prowlers, drug addicts, drug dealers, the homeless,” Wong said.

Although Mr. Chin would train anyone from youths to senior citizens to wear the IDEC’s khaki security uniform and assist him, he mostly worked alone.

Serena Louie, another good friend, recalls sitting with her brother at her grandparents’ Chinatown apartment watching Mr. Chin run around the neighborhood. “He was always there,” Louie said.

On Thursday, Seattle and King County leaders, as well as Gov. Jay Inslee, eulogized Mr. Chin.

“We don’t know exactly what happened on that street in Seattle’s International District early this morning. Yet there’s no doubt, as his friends have said today, that the ID lost its savior, its protector, its hero and a big piece of its heart,” Inslee said in a statement.

Seattle City Councilmember John Okamoto said that several weeks ago Mr. Chin “was the first responder to administer aid to my ailing father.”

“He is a hero and a friend, and I will miss him dearly,” Okamoto said in a statement.

Assunta Ng, publisher of the Northwest Asian Weekly, called Mr. Chin the “savior” of the Chinatown International District.

“The last person I thought would get killed is Donnie. He is a survivor, he has survival instincts,” said Ng, choking back tears.

Ng said members of the community have long fought to secure permanent funding for the IDEC. She doesn’t know what will happen to the center now that Mr. Chin is gone.

Connie So, with the Greater Seattle Chapter of OCA (formerly the Organization of Chinese Americans), recalled Mr. Chin as not only being supportive by showing up at community events, but as being the person who would direct traffic or take out the trash at events when it overflowed.

Hsieh said Mr. Chin was “candid and direct about his wanting that people not have a negative perception of Chinese people and the history of Chinatown.”

Wong believes Mr. Chin, who grew up in the Central Area, learned a sense of community involvement from his family who owned a gift shop in the ID for nearly four generations.

“He was a legend on the streets of Chinatown,” Wong said. “He was a legend in the way of helping people. He was always there to help, whether it’s the little old lady looking to cross the street or the tourist having the heart attack.”

A candlelight memorial service for Chin will be held at 9 p.m. Sunday at Hing Hay Park, 423 Maynard Ave S. The memorial is open to the public.

Seattle Police Assistant Chief Robert Merner answers reporters’ questions about the shooting death of community leader Donnie Chin, who had managed the International District Emergency Center since the late 1960s. (Lindsey Wasson / The Seattle Times)