SAN JOSE — Through the laughter and the tears, one thing was clear at a vigil Friday night for an Evergreen liquor store owner who was shot and killed during a robbery earlier this week:
Hieu “Charlie” Ly was well loved.
“Thank you for all your support,” Ly’s daughter-in-law, Jessica Yuen, told the crowd gathered outside the store at Quimby and South White roads. “Thank you from the bottom of our hearts for standing beside us during this time and for giving us the strength to keep pushing forward.”
Ly, 58, was gunned down Monday night when he refused to open the cash register for a masked robber, his wife Lilly at his side. A suspect in the case, 21-year-old San Jose resident Muniunmee Hendrix, was arrested Thursday in the Central Valley city of Merced.
The vigil drew more than 100 people, several of whom shared stories about Ly and what he had meant to them.
“This guy showed me respect and honesty as a man. For someone to take his life is brutal to me,” said a tearful Edward Villareal.
In a moment of raw emotion, the 24-year-old San Jose resident posed a question to Ly’s killer.
“How can you take my friend from me?”
There was, of course, no answer to be had, but Villareal found comfort in an embrace with one of Ly’s sons.
Sharon Pinter drew laughs from the crowd when she recounted how Ly had given her a bottle of Hornitos tequila after her fiancé died. She later explained that it was her fiancé’s alcoholic drink of choice and that Ly had placed it on her porch among other tributes.
“That’s what my fiancé used to buy here,” said Pinter, 64.
Many of Ly’s younger patrons knew him as “boss man,” a term of respect, said Lorenzo Farfan, 27. But Farfan also counted Ly as a friend — one who had recently offered to help him recharge the air conditioning in his car.
“He was that kind of guy,” Farfan said. “Most people that look at me, they won’t talk to me. … He never did that to me.”
Ly was devoted to his family and would cook for his four sons every day during his breaks, Yuen said.
“Even though he himself was a vegetarian, he relied on memory and creativity to make meat dishes for his carnivorous sons,” she said. “Seriously though, nothing could compare to dad’s pho. It was the best.”
Ly’s oldest son, Thao Ly, was thankful for the outpouring of love and support from the community.
“I’m glad that my dad touched a lot of hearts out there,” he said in an interview following the vigil.
The vigil was organized by Lulu Montez, a regular at the liquor store since Ly took it over a decade ago.
“I think people need to know, and his family needed to know, how well he was loved and the impact that he had on many people,” said Montez, 57. “It’s going to be hard for us to come here and not see those lights on.”
Montez, like so many of Ly’s friends and loved ones, was still in shock over his violent end.
“I think it’s devastating that somebody can just walk in and take the livelihood and the life of somebody who has worked for the American dream,” Montez said about Ly, who fled his native Vietnam after the Vietnam War. “It’s a very sad society that we live in.”
The vigil, however, was a step toward recovery.
“It is going to be hard for us,” Montez said, “but as a community we will get through it.”
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