MODESTO, Calif. – A couple shot and killed inside their market were respected Laotian immigrants who fled their war-torn homeland 30 years ago and saved enough money to buy the small business in California's Central Valley.
Their American Dream came to an end, however, when gunmen opened fire inside the V&V Oriental Market, taking the lives of Vanh Thammavongsa, 55, and his wife, Phouvieng, 49, and leaving their 28-year-old developmentally disabled daughter hospitalized on life support, the Modesto Bee reported Thursday.
Police told the newspaper Thursday afternoon that hospital officials have declared the woman brain dead.
About an hour after the shooting, police arrested suspected gang members Oloth Phommahaxay, 18, and two teenage boys from Modesto for investigation of murder.
The suspects were arraigned Thursday in Stanislaus County Superior Court, where the district attorney's office announced it would prosecute the two minors as adults. Prosecutors asked the judge for additional time to decide if they will seek the death penalty.
The motive for Tuesday's shooting remained unclear, Modesto police Sgt. Rick Armendariz said.
The couple wanted to improve the lives of their three children when they bought the Asian goods market located in a crime-ridden neighborhood 15 years ago.
"They're a loving family," their niece Lisa Sanachay told the newspaper. "They were just trying to make a living."
Family members and friends said the couple and their daughter, who rarely left their side, never had never been the victims of a serious crime before.
They were known for having a strong work ethic. Phouvieng Thammavongsa mostly helped their steady stream of loyal customers, and her husband would work in the back of the store.
"She always gave you deals," customer Crystal Perez, 26, said about Phouvieng Thammavongsa. "She would give my daughter these mango gelatin candies for free whether we bought something or not."
Perez said the couple would even let homeless people sit on a storefront ledge when other businesses wouldn't.
Sanachay said the couple would work seven days a week, even on holidays.
"We kind of didn't like that they were always alone," Sanachay said. "They would sometimes have their grandkids with them at the market. Thank God they weren't with them" on Tuesday.
Family members said the store will remain closed indefinitely.
"They were always the ones watching the store," another niece, Lino Sivilay, said. "Right now, everyone doesn't know what to do."
Information from: The Modesto Bee, http://www.modbee.com
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