Monday, July 03, 2000

Korean couple flees city after fierce attack

Brutal attack batters hopes of immigrants

        Randy and Mija Kim came to Cincinnati to live the American dream.

        They sold everything they had in Korea, leaving their homeland for the place Randy calls “the best country in the world.”

        The Kims believed they would have a good life in America. Their son, Jin, was studying to be a doctor at the University of Cincinnati. They owned their own business. If they worked hard and treated people right, no one would bother them and they would have a place to call home.

Randy Kim packs boxes for his move from Cincinnati.
(Tony Jones photo)
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        Two hundred twenty-four years ago, similar thoughts ran through the minds of delegates to the Continental Congress. As they gathered in Philadelphia during a sizzling hot July, they were creating a new nation with unheard-of personal freedoms.

        On July 4, 1776, the congress adopted the Declaration of Independence. That precious document proclaimed certain unalienable rights, including “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.”

        Today, on the eve of the Fourth, Randy and Mija Kim have fled Cincinnati for Houston.

        They left town Sunday. The American dream they once had now gives them nightmares.

        The nightmares started May 21. The Kims were working in their Millvale convenience store, the Beekman Carry Out.

        They bought the cramped one-room shop in 1997. The date sticks in their minds. It was another All-American day, April 15. Tax day.

        The small store became the Kims' life. They worked 11 hours a day, seven days a week.

        “Never closed for holidays,” Mija said.

        “People in the neighborhood needed us. We were a convenience store,” Randy said. “You have to be convenient.”

        That Sunday night, as Randy stocked a shelf with bags of potato chips, three teen-age thugs stormed into the store.

        One of the three low-lifes shot Mija Kim as she stood behind the cash register. Then she was pistol-whipped.

        The youngest one — police say he is 13 years old — hit Randy Kim with a baseball bat. Again. And again.

        A baseball bat does hideous things to a man's shins, his head, his back and his heart.

        Skin gets mashed into bone. Both split. Bruises turn blue, red, purple and yellow. Muscles malfunction. Pain is constant. Walking is difficult. Getting out of bed, bowing to a guest is an ordeal.

        “Every time I stand up, my brain feels like it fell out of my head,” said Randy Kim.

        He told me this late last week in the living room of his Price Hill home. A short, slight man, he sat uncomfortably in an easy chair.

        Taking a break from packing, he folded his hands on his knees. The shorts he wore exposed his battered shins.

        He showed me a lump he has on his head from the beating and touched broken bones in his wrist. “I might need an operation for the breaks.”

        Still, he feels he got off easier than his wife.

        A bullet fired by one thug grazed her right arm. This mere flesh wound on Mija Kim looks as if someone put a hot poker to her skin.

        She, too, needs surgery. Sitting on a nearby flight of steps, Mija pointed to where she was pistol-whipped in the face. The damage to her gum, jaw and teeth is not healing. She has trouble talking.

        And sleeping.

        “She has nightmares,” Randy Kim whispered. Even though the three teen-age thugs are awaiting trial, she still can't rest easy.

        He looked around the room. The place was bare except for the easy chair, a sofa and a slew of cardboard boxes. The Kims were packing to leave town and their nightmares behind.

Wanted to stay
        Moving was not in the Kims' plans.

        “We were going to stay here for a few more years, maybe three, maybe forever,” Randy said.

        With a slow shake of his head, he dismissed TV reports that the couple had planned to leave Cincinnati before the beatings.

        “My son is now an emergency room doctor in Houston. He will make 200,000 bucks a year. Good money.

        “But we were going to stay here. Too hot in Houston.

        “I like the weather here. At this house, I sit out back in the autumn, look at the trees and see the pretty colors on the leaves. There's a park down the street where I walk for an hour every morning before work.”

        Randy Kim was proud of the work he did on the Beekman Carry Out. “I painted the place. I wore out two saws making new shelves. I put in new wiring. I'm an electrical engineer by training. But no one here would hire me for that. They want young men. I'm 60. I'm old.”

        He used his electrical training to install the store's security camera. The system captured every second of the May 21 attack. Footage of the beating was played over and over again on TV news shows.

        Randy Kim “never thought about robberies” when he installed the camera and mounted the video monitor by the cash register. The Kims used the system to settle disputes.

        “A customer would say he bought five packs of cigarettes and we only gave him three. Zip! We would play back the tape,” Mija explained.

        Randy Kim has seen a video of the attack. He's watched a 13-year-old junior high kid beat him with a baseball bat.

        He has one question.

        “Why did they hit us? They could have had the money. But they didn't ask for that. They came in first and started hitting us. Why?”

        Other than that unanswered question, Randy is trying to put the attack behind him.

        “I feel happy,” he said and then explained why.

        The attack occurred on a Sunday, the day the Kims' son usually came to the store. He'd visit, help out and the family would eat dinner together.

        That Sunday, Jin Kim did not come by.

        “If he had been in the store, something even worse might have happened.

        “It didn't,” Randy Kim said.

        “We're all alive. So, I'm happy.”

        And, now the Kims are gone. They have moved to Houston, to be close to their son.

        Once their wounds heal and the nightmares fade, they plan to go back to work. They still hope to live the American dream and enjoy their right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.

        Columnist Cliff Radel can be reached at (513) 768-8379; fax 768-8340.


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