After 44 days, and 5,000 hours of investigative work, Fresno Police say they have solved a quadruple homicide that gripped the city and the nation.
At a New Year’s Eve news conference, Fresno Police Chief Andrew Hall announced the arrest of six suspects in the Nov. 17 homicides.
“This shooting affected not only the city but also really impacted the Hmong-American community.” — Fresno Police Chief Andrew Hall
The motive, Hall said, was gang retaliation. And, they could be charged with capital murder.
The four men who died in the mass shooting were 23-year-old Xy Lee, an internationally known Hmong singer; 31-year-old Phia Vang, 38-year-old Kou Xiong, and 40-year-old Kalaxang Thao. All of the men were from Fresno. Six others were wounded but have since been released from the hospital.
“This shooting affected not only the city but also really impacted the Hmong-American community,” Hall said. “While I know these arrests will provide some form of closure for the victims’ families, it will never take away the pain and the sense of loss they are suffering. And I am sorry for that.”
Motive: Gang Retaliation
Hall said the shooting was a retaliatory hit by the Mongolian Boys Society gang.
In the early hours of Nov. 17, a brother of a Mongolian Boys member — Randy Xiong — was killed at home on 3904 E. Dwight.
At 7:48 p.m., two gunmen stormed a backyard Sunday night football watching party at 5361 E. Lamona Ave., firing two pistols. Of the 16 men present, 10 were struck. Four died. Many more partygoers, mostly women and children, were inside and not injured.
Even though none of the dead were involved with gangs, a one-time associate of the rival Asian Crips gang was believed to be at the party. Hall would not say if he was one of the victims, either wounded or killed. However, he did say he was not an active gang member.
Hall said they are still attempting to identify other partygoers who left early.
The arrested suspects, all from Fresno, are:
— 19-year-old Jhovanny Delgado
— 26-year-old Porge Kue
— 27-year-old Anthony Montes
— 31-year-old Pao Choua Vang
— 25-year-old Billy Xiong
— 25-year-old Johnny Xiong
All six men will be charged with four counts of murder, 12 counts of attempted murder, participation in a street gang, and conspiracy. All are being held on $11 million in bail. Fresno County District Attorney Lisa Smittcamp said she would update specific charges later this week.
Additionally, Hall said one person of interest remains at large, 23-year-old Sia Vang.
The Mongolian Boys Society is one of Fresno’s most notorious and violent gangs. In the late 1990s, many of the gang’s members were convicted of raping young Hmong girls and forcing them into prostitution.
Death Penalty on the Table
Smittcamp said the case could lead to a capital murder case.
“This case presents a factual basis for consideration for special circumstances murder. That means upon full review of the facts and evidence in this case, that some or all of the defendants, could face the maximum penalty of life without the possibility of parole, or the death penalty,” Smittcamp said.
Hall said they are still analyzing evidence seized from the search warrants and arrests.
“The final chapter of this case will be a successful prosecution,” Hall said.
After the shootings, Hall formed an Asian gang task force.
“A tip to Crime Stoppers served as a pointer in our investigation that led us to an interview with a person who had additional information on this case,” Hall said. “This led to further tips and the end result.”
On Dec. 17, Clovis police arrested Billy Xiong for mail theft. Hall said he was a person of interest in the Lamona Avenue homicides. A search of Xiong’s vehicle revealed a Glock pistol, believed to be one of the weapons used. It had been modified to operate as a fully automatic weapon.
Xiong’s arrest led to 19 search warrants served on Dec. 26.
Later that evening, Fresno police arrested Kue and Montes.
Fresno police arrested Johnny Xiong, Vang, and Delgado around 6:30 p.m. Monday evening.
Hall said all admitted their role in the shooting in interviews with police, saying it was a gang retaliation for the killing of Randy Xiong.
Through the warrants, police found 13 more guns, including the second suspected pistol — a 40-caliber Glock allegedly stolen from Oklahoma; $46,000 in cash; and two vehicles believed to be used in the homicides.
Many local, state and federal agencies supported the investigation. Among them: FBI, ATF, Homeland Security Investigations, MAGEC (regional anti-gang unit), Fresno and Tulare sheriff’s offices, and CHP.
A total of $56,000 in reward money has been offered through Crime Stoppers for information leading to the arrest of suspects in the case.
Reaction to Arrests
“My hope, my prayer is for a peaceful and prosperous New Year for the Hmong people and the entire city of Fresno as we all resolve to find the better angels of our nature,” Fresno Mayor Lee Brand said at the news conference.
Both major candidates to succeed Brand as mayor also praised the arrests.
“I join the entire community in applauding the progress made by Fresno Police detectives. Given my role as a prosecutor, I am ethically prohibited from commenting on the specifics of this case as there is on-going investigations and potential pending prosecution,” Fresno County prosecutor Andrew Janz said. “What I will say is that moving forward, we must and we can do more to reduce gun violence in America and in our cities.”
Jerry Dyer, who retired as Fresno police chief in October, praised his former department.
“I commend the efforts of the Fresno Police Department and their relentless pursuit of justice for the victims and their families,” Dyer said. “Although this is the beginning of a long legal process, I am hopeful that the arrest of these violent criminals will serve to reduce fear in the Hmong community and bring a sense of relief to the victims’ families.”