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City, Cambodian Family Grieve Following Murder of Boy

September 23, 1987

LOWELL, Mass. (AP) _ The family of a 13-year-old Cambodian boy doesn’t blame white people for his drowning death in the locks of this old mill town. They just want justice and they’re willing to trust the American court system.

But police said Vandy Phorng died during a racially-motivated attack. And an 11-year-old white boy was charged Monday with the death.

The suspect, who is undergoing 30 days of psychiatric evaluation, could face a maximum of 10 years in custody and a $10,000 fine. The official charge is juvenile delinquency but court papers point out that the case involves murder, assault and battery and violation of civil rights.

Vandy and his 8-year-old brother, Vanthy, were fishing last Tuesday where canal waters surge through a set of granite locks that date back to the 19th century.

It was a place where they fished often.

″Vandy had a bag of fish,″ his younger brother recalled Tuesday. ″Then one of the two American kids comes and takes the bag of fish and throws it in the water and fish swim away.″

The white boy then pushed Vandy into the swirling water, he said.

A passing Lowell University freshman dove into the water and pulled Phorng out. But the boy died the next day.

Police say the attack was racially motivated.

Detective Capt. John Cullen said the slaying ″might have taken place only because of the kid’s ethnic background.″

Lowell’s Southeast Asian population has swelled during the past five years. Some estimates are that up to one in four of Lowell’s 100,000 residents are immigrants from Southeast Asia.

Police said many incidents of racism may go unreported.

″These people, they don’t really push back. They are a shy, timid people,″ said Police Lt. William Shea, head of the department’s juvenile bureau.

Still, the Phorng family said they harbor no bitterness against the white community.

The anger, said Davy Phorng, the victim’s 24-year-old brother, is more focused than that.

He said that when he told his mother, Sokhom, of the drowning, her reaction was fury, not at a race, but at her son’s alleged killer.

″When she heard she said she wanted to get that kid herself and for him to die just the same as her son.″ But, in the end, he persuaded her to trust in the American justice system.

″We’ll let the courts take care of it,″ said Davy Phorng, whose family fled Cambodia four years ago and lost their father in the escape. ″There’s nothing we can do.″

At a time when this mill city north of Boston is winning praise for a school desegregation plan, the slaying has shocked many.

At the Bartlett School where the boy was arrested Monday, home room teachers talked to their students about the case, assistant principal Robert Boehm said.

The school is adjacent to the Francis Gate Guard Lock, a 19th century lock system where Phorng drowned in the swirling waters.

″It’s a tragedy. We are saddened by it. We are sickened by it,″ said school committee member Kathryn P. Stoklosa. But Stoklosa said the killing had nothing to do with Lowell’s desegregation program.

″There are people who would like to make that connection,″ she said. ″As far as I’m concerned that is out of order.″

The State Board of Education on Tuesday praised Lowell for quickly implementing its desegregation plan.

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