Son charged with causing death of WWII internment camp survivor

FRESNO, Calif. (KFSN) -- A World War Two internment camp survivor has died, and Fresno County sheriff's detectives blame her son.

Kay Minamoto lived her life with the strength of the crooked tree in one of her favorite photos. She was interned during World War Two, but came back to the Valley and thrived -- spreading joy through the Squaw Valley community where she spent her last 16 years.

"She was just amazing and we're very privileged to share her in our lives," said neighbor Shantel Gomez.

But her last years seemed not as happy. Neighbors say her attitude remained cheery, but something changed when her 51-year-old son, Steve, moved in with her.

"She was afraid of him," said neighbor Angela Splettsoesser. "I saw her many times sleeping on the other property in her car because she was afraid to be there in the house with him."

And the 80-year-old left them with violent final images. Splettstoesser says she saw Steve knock his mother to the ground. "I got out of my car and I saw the blood coming off the back of her head," she said.

Angela's husband performed CPR, but Kay died the next day. The neighborhood mourned together, writing messages of love on a banner they all could see. They also built a shrine to her on her property filled with some of the things that she loved. It was a little place where people could come sit and pray about Kay. But they say her son dismantled it shortly after, leaving only two little sitting chairs now propped up against a barbed wire fence.

"Yeah, that's how evil or horrible (he was)," Gomez said, "I'm sorry."

In an arrest warrant Action News uncovered, detectives say Steve Minamoto eventually admitted to pushing his mother. He's now charged with elder abuse that could cause death. Neighbors say they know Kay would forgive him and bounce back like her favorite tree.

"She said 'I think it started from the roots and worked its way up but then something tried to pull it down and it still had strength enough to bring itself back up,'" Gomez said about the tree in the picture she now keeps in her home.
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