Death In The Family

First Khoua Her asked the clans for help. Then she went to the courts. By the time police found her six children dead, she'd run out of places to turn.

That was especially true with Her because she had shown a rebellious, independent streak, adds another St. Paul legal professional who has spoken with her since the deaths. "Khoua's bright and ambitious, but she didn't expect things to be handed to her," says the professional, who asked not to be identified. "She's a hard worker, but every time she tried to do something to better her life, things would fall apart. She got little to no support from her husband, and there didn't seem to be anyone else she could turn to. If you go against your husband or the clan, you'll find yourself alone."

Kou Som, the cousin of Tou Hang and spokesman for his clan, says Her brought some of her problems on herself. "If she'd stayed within the [clan] system, none of this would have happened," he insists, adding that he and other clan leaders didn't learn of the police calls to the Hang residence until after the children's deaths. Som says traditional methods can help families and couples solve their problems, and that it is the clan leaders who will, when necessary, steer individuals toward the American justice system.

"Let's say the husband is abusing the wife," he explains. "The wife would bring this to the husband's clan, and they will talk to him. If he doesn't change, then the wife's family will meet with the husband's family and both sides will listen to testimony and decide upon an appropriate course of action. If the husband is hitting his wife, the clan will tell him to immediately cease. If it continues, the wife will go back to the clan, and if the husband again refuses to stop, and it's obvious the clan can't control him, then they should go to the police."

Janet Hamline

But sometimes the clan system doesn't work, counters Gaoly Yang. "I have heard from colleagues that if everyone followed the traditional approach, none of these problems would happen. But this couple tried the traditional approach and it failed. The problem here wasn't that they stepped outside of the clan system. They needed to have more options."

The St. Paul Public Schools' Yang Dao speculates that if Her turned to police without the clan's approval, it was only a matter of time until relatives washed their hands of her. "They will say that you made your decision, so now you are on your own," he asserts. "And she loses whatever family support she had."

One consequence of Her's isolation was that she had trouble finding help to take care of the children; police records suggest that she increasingly left 10-year-old Koua Eai in charge. On June 3, for example, Her called 911 saying she'd come home and found the kids missing. Officers discovered the children playing in the woods next to the housing complex.

In his report, St. Paul Police Officer Steven Frazier noted that Her told him she feared the children's father had taken them away. He indicated that he would forward the information to a special St. Paul Police unit assigned to the area around the McDonough projects so they could "assist the family with setting up a system of daycare and visitation so that the parents will know where the children are. It should be noted that this is not the first time that Her has left the children alone."

Mee, the legal professional who has met with Her, says Her told her she occasionally left home without the children. "I know that once she went grocery shopping and had to leave the kids," Mee recalls. "But her car wasn't working and she had to take the bus. It's hard to handle six small children on your own." At least once, Mee says Her told her, she "went to a party, got dressed up, left her children alone. She was lonely, needed help with the kids, and said she went because she needed to find love." That time, Mee says, Hang showed up at the same party and called police to report that she'd abandoned the kids.

A couple of days after police found her children in the woods, Her filed for a second order for protection against her ex-husband. In a June 9 affidavit, she maintained that Hang had threatened her life several times, that he had followed her on outings with the children and attacked her, and that he'd stated that "as long as he is living, she will not have a life." There is no record of a hearing date on the matter having been set.

A week after filing for that order, Her was stopped by St. Paul police for driving with expired tabs and without insurance. Her car was impounded, and misdemeanor charges were filed. Around the same time, the management of McDonough notified her that they were about to begin eviction proceedings against her. Hang had removed her name from the lease when she went to Michigan, and she'd never filed the paperwork to be reinstated. Mee says that as Her scrambled to assemble the required documentation, another problem arose: She was told that her subsidized rent was being raised from $76 to $140 a month, retroactive to February. (Neither McDonough housing manager Bee Vang nor St. Paul Public Housing Assistant Executive Director Al Hester would consent to be interviewed for this story.)

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