Tension in Hmong community over linking Fresno shooting to gang task force

FRESNO, Calif. (KFSN) -- Police are still looking for at least two gunmen who broke up a family party, killed four people, and injured six others Sunday.

RELATED: Fresno Shooting: 4 killed, 6 injured after gunmen open fire on family watching football, suspects still at large

As the families share in grief, leaders in the Hmong community are expressing some concerns and fears about the crime itself and the approach police have taken in their investigation.

In the chaos of the mass shooting scene and on the streets of Fresno in the days afterwards, police have tried to focus the investigation.

At his press conference detailing the crime, police chief Andy Hall announced the formation of a gang task force even as he was careful to say he had no information connecting the victims to gangs.

"This investigation is going to take two phases now," he said Monday. "The first phase will be the establishment of an Asian Gang Task Force."

"In this case we brought in gang experts because we want to look at those angles," said Capt. Dennis Bridges. "Doesn't mean we're saying this is a gang homicide."

But in the Hmong community, even the loose connection between the crime and a gang task force has created some tension.

"The moniker attached to it was a little premature and obviously the community is somewhat sensitive about that," said Blong Xiong, a former Fresno city council member.

Xy Lee's family can barely talk about their grieving process without questions about whether the 23-year-old international music star had some involvement with gangs.

"He is a person who helped the community," said Kou Lee, speaking in English for the first time at the end of a 5-minute interview, in response to a question about whether his brother had gang affiliations. "He's a person to ask for help. I think he's a person everyone wants to be friends with."

But police say about 60% of their homicides involve gangs, so gang officers have the expertise to help in this type of investigation - even just to rule out gang involvement.

And some other recent crimes, like a homicide the same morning, may also shed some light.

"So we're comparing past incidents," said Capt. Bridges. "We're seeing what the victims were doing leading up to this. We're looking at a number of things to take it from a whodunit with no clue at all to narrowing it down now to having some angles we're looking at."

Investigators say they're analyzing forensic evidence and pursuing tips from the public.

But several people in the Hmong community say they'd like more reassurances from police, especially as they start holding parties in the buildup to Hmong New Year next month.

"There are still concerns out there as far as safety because the culprits have not been caught," said Blong Xiong. "So, is it safe for these types of large gatherings?"

Police say they're confident they'll track down the suspects, hopefully soon enough to put the Hmong community at ease.
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