One Asian American victim, another an Asian American hero, in SPU shooting

Paul Lee, 19, in a photo posted on a class website.
Paul Lee, 19, in a photo posted on a class website.

Yesterday marked another grim incident in this nation’s ongoing litany of gun violence. A man, identified as 26-year-old former LA Fitness janitor Aaron Ybarra walked into Seattle Pacific University’s Otto Miller Hall and opened fire with a shotgun at point-blank range, killing one person and wounding three others.

When I first heard about the incident yesterday, I scoured the web, hoping that the victims or the perpetrator were not Asian American. Something about Elliot Rodger — who is biracially Asian American — and his deadly shooting spree in Isla Vista had me hyper-sensitive. I just couldn’t help thinking: “no, please, our community can’t take any more tragedy”.

I wish I had been right.

Yesterday’s single fatality at SPU — who was pronounced dead at Harborview Medical Center — has now been identified as 19-year-old Paul Lee, a Korean American freshman from Portland who reportedly enjoyed dancing and “eating delicious food”. Friends and family remember Lee as a “lively” person who made the classroom fun.

On Facebook, Albert Lee, Paul Lee’s brother, posted about his anguish:

“At a time when we feel a level of loss, grief, and pain we couldn’t have ever imagined, we are so overwhelmed by all of the thoughts and prayers from the community.

“At this moment all we can ask is to continue to remember Paul and all that he has left behind for us. Thank you all for blanketing us with your kind words, we will thank you all individually in due time.

“Paul, you handsome shekki, we miss you and love you more than you know. Keep dancin’ in heaven.”

The term “shekki” is an expletive in Korean, but between friends it’s used as an endearment.

My thoughts and prayers go out to the Lee family. The loss of yet another young man — barely older than a child — by gun violence, wounds deeply. That he is now the fourth Asian American man to die in relation to a mass shooting on a college campus in the span of two weeks is unfathomable and senseless.

Photo credit: EveryJoe.com
22-year-old Jon Meis who took down a gunman with pepper spray. Photo credit: EveryJoe.com

There is no word yet as to Ybarra’s motive, but what we do know is that another Asian American has also found his way into the spotlight in relation to the SPU shooting. Emil Guillermo of AALDEF reports today that Jon Meis, the heroic student working as a hall monitor at Otto Miller Hall who saved untold number of lives by spraying Ybarra with pepper spray and tackling him to the ground while he was reloading, is biracially Asian American. Described as quiet and “courageous”, Meis is also deeply religious, engaged, and the son of a Boeing engineer.

This story is as tragic as it underscores the complex humanity of the Asian American community — we are heroes and we are victims. Unfortunately, some of us are capable of horrific and heinous villainy. We are not the Model Minority. We are not a monolithic sameness. We are not stereotypes. We are simply people.

What I hope the shooting at SPU will help to reinforce for our country is the deadly cost we are paying in our unwillingness to confront gun violence. In having virtually unchecked access to guns whose sole purpose is the ending of another human life, we are paying too high a price. We are seeing too many stories unwritten, too many lives cut short too soon.

Meanwhile, heroic student — and Asian American — Jon Meis stopped a gunman armed with legal, and totally non-lethal, pepper spray. Guns may start violence, but clearly we don’t need them to end it.

So really, I have to ask: at what point will this country start to have a real conversation on gun control? How many more deaths will it take?

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