A Christian man in Des Moines, Iowa, was surrounded by four men as he was in his car with his four children, and was horrifically executed in front of them. As we read from one report:
Hours before Stephen Kim was killed Friday night in a parking lot on Des Moines’ west side, he celebrated “culture day” with his three sons at Holy Family Catholic School.
The Burmese immigrant’s two oldest children are first- and second-graders at the school. The youngest is set to start preschool in the fall, Holy Family Principal Martin Flaherty said.
Kim, 41, and his sons toured cultural exhibits created by students at the ethnically diverse school while the boys’ mother, Esther, worked one of her two restaurant jobs. Like his wife, Kim worked two jobs to support his family and ensure his children could attend private school.
“He was just so earnest, and he wanted to do what was best for his kids and his family,” Flaherty said. “He worked so doggone hard.”
Hours later, at about 10:30 p.m., Kim was shot and killed while waiting to pick up his wife in the parking lot of an apartment complex at 3523 University Ave. in what police believe was an attempted robbery.
“They essentially executed him in front of his kids,” Des Moines police Sgt. Paul Parizek said in a news conference Saturday.
Flaherty called Kim a kind, hard-working man who was determined to give his children a better life than the one he fled in Burma. Kim and his wife immigrated to America in December 2008 and later gained U.S. citizenship, according to the Ethnic Minorities of Burma Advocacy and Resource Center.
Part of his “American dream” was to make sure his children received a good education, Flaherty said. He frequently communicated with the school’s administrators, despite a language barrier, to make sure he understood what was happening at school, according to the principal.
“He was absolutely determined to make sure his children had a good education,” Flaherty said. “He was a committed father.”
Due to their busy work schedules, Stephen and Esther Kim did not often get to take part in school activities, but the principal said Stephen Kim made a point of attending Friday’s cultural activity.
Stations set up in classrooms featured food and cultural artifacts from different countries. Some members of the school’s Burmese community wore traditional clothing, performed a dance and answered students’ questions. Kim did not dance, but he watched with his youngest child at his side, Flaherty said.
Holy Family, a school of about 240 students located in Des Moines’ Capitol Park neighborhood, has about 25 to 30 Burmese students. School staff talked to students about the killing Monday morning, starting with the Kim children’s classes, Flaherty said.
“We’re being very upfront and honest,” he said. “We know they’re going to hear about it, so we want to make sure we’re being honest with them” to dispel rumors.
The school will provide counseling to students as long as needed, he said.
Kim was part of the Zomi ethnic minority from the Chin State, in western Myanmar, which was formerly Burma. Zomi number in the millions and can be found in India, Bangladesh and Myanmar. They are mostly Christian in a predominantly Theravada Buddhist region of the world.
After briefly living in Malaysia, Kim and his wife, who is also Zomi, came to the U.S. to escape the persecution they faced as a result of their faith and ethnic identity, said Henny Ohr, executive director of the Ethnic Minorities of Burma Advocacy and Resource Center in Iowa.
Kim and his wife both worked at Cool Basil restaurant in Clive. Kim had a second job at Windsor Windows in West Des Moines.
Esther Kim was coming from her second job at the Banana Leaf restaurant in West Des Moines when her husband was killed. The couple used the parking lot at the University Terrace apartments as a pick-up and drop-off spot for Esther Kim, who carpooled to work.
Kim was seated in his car with his three children in the backseat when at least four men approached the vehicle.
“He did what any parent would do, instinctually, and try to protect his children,” Parizek said Saturday.
A GoFundMe page was set up to pay for the family’s funeral and living costs.
Police have not publicly named any suspects in connection with Kim’s death, one of two homicides in Des Moines over the weekend. Shortly before 2 a.m. Sunday, a man was fatally stabbed in the 1500 block of 13th Street. Police arrested a Des Moines man in connection with that homicide hours later.
This weekend’s homicides put Des Moines at 12 homicides so far this year. At this time last year, there had been one homicide in the city. There were 13 homicides in Des Moines all of last year.