‘There Was So Much Blood'

A Korean handyman known affectionately as "Uncle" remained hospitalized with severe facial trauma, after authorities alleged he traded his tools for a gun and left the peaceful religious community he served in torment.

John Chong, 69, shot another resident to death, wounding her husband, and tried to shoot another couple who instead disarmed him in a bloody struggle in a remote Korean Catholic retreat in the hills of Southern California, Riverside County sheriff's Sgt. Michael Lujan said Wednesday.

Chong's friend, Chuck Owens, said the retired welder worked seven days a week doing repairs and handyman jobs at the retreat -- from building brick walls to using a backhoe -- despite suffering from a serious medical illness several years ago.

He and another neighbor said they believed there was a dispute between Chong and at least one of the couples over work responsibilities.

"He's a hard worker and without him, this place is going to be in trouble," said Owens, who rents space in the campground. "He gave all his life to God and donated all his time and never charged anyone."

He added, "I think that there's a breaking point in any person. There's only so far you can go."

Owens said Chong, who returned last week from a month's stay at the religious group's branch in the Los Angeles suburb of Lynwood, visited him Tuesday and the two shared potato wedges from Jack in the Box and chatted.

"He came up and he seemed normal," Owens said. "He came up for a while and we sat around for a while. I noticed nothing."

Chong was unmarried and had no children, he said.

"Everyone liked John. They called him 'Uncle,' the nuns did, and he was always appreciated," Owens said.

The Sheriff's Department identified the dead woman as Chuneui Yun, 58. Her wounded husband, Jong Pil Yun, was hospitalized in serious condition.

The couple injured in the fight also remained hospitalized although their conditions were not serious, said sheriff's Capt. Mitchell Alm said.

Neighbor Paula Schultze identified them as Joseph Kim, a retired airline pilot, and his wife Juliana.

The Sheriff's Department was conferring with the district attorney's office and will likely seek charges against Chong in the next several days, Lujan said. Charges under consideration include one count of murder, three counts of attempted murder and a count of unlawful possession of a firearm.

The retreat, about 85 miles southeast of Los Angeles, is marked by a simple white sign along Highway 79, a two-lane road that winds through the hills of the Temecula wine country. A mile off the highway, a lane climbs toward the hidden retreat. A large white cross stands on one hilltop and another white cross is painted on a boulder on an opposite cliff.

Some of its residents have lived there since before it became a religious retreat four or five years ago.

Deputies were called there before 7:30 p.m. Tuesday.

Investigators determined that Chong, who lived alone in a bungalow, had gone to the Yuns' bungalow and shot the woman once in the head with a .32-caliber revolver, killing her immediately, Lujan said. Her husband was then shot in the torso.

Chong then went to the Kims' bungalow about 300 yards away and attempted to shoot them, but they fought him off, Lujan said. Two shots were fired during the brawl but no one was hit.

Schultze, a 4½-year resident, said that Tuesday night someone pounded on her door screaming for help. When Schultze and her husband opened the door, they saw a hysterical Juliana Kim with a gun in her hand.

"She said, 'He's going to kill us,"' Schultze said.

"I ran up the hill and I saw what happened and I took the gun away and put it in the bushes and I screamed to my husband to call 911," she said.

At the Kims' home, Schultze said she found John Chong and Joseph Kim lying on the porch in a pool of blood.

"There was so much blood and his face was so smashed," she said of Chong. "He had serious head wounds."

Schultze said she noticed a green dumbbell the Kims had used to fight off Chong and she also hid it in bushes.  She said she and other neighbors stayed with Chong, who was barely breathing, until help arrived.

Schultze and Owens both noted they believed there was a disagreement between Chong and the Kims over work.  She said some months ago she heard a significant argument between Chong and Joseph Kim but could not understand what it was about because they were speaking Korean.

She said she knew little about Chong, but believed he had worked on oil rigs in the past.

Late Wednesday afternoon, a large puddle of blood remained inside the front door of the Yuns' home.

At the Kims' bungalow, blood coated the porch, soaked into the living room carpet, covered the edge of the kitchen table and dripped down the cloth. Objects across the room had spatters.

A screen door was off its tracks and broken furniture was strewn about. A pair of bent eyeglasses lay on the floor next to a Bible, and scattered coins were mixed with dried blood.

The camp will be closed for the next month "as we come to terms with Tuesday's events," said a statement from Sister Thaddeus Suh, community supervisor for the Congregation of the Sisters of Jesus, a Korean order that operates the retreat.

The retreat is one of four U.S. branches of the Kkottongnae Brothers and Sisters of Jesus, a Roman Catholic organization dedicated to serving the poor and homeless. It was founded in the city of Cheongju, South Korea, by Father Oh Woong Jin in 1976.

Kkottongnae means "flower village" in Korean.

Copyright AP - Associated Press
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