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Officer Sorry, But Says He Feels Justified in Shooting of 13-Year- Olds

November 23, 1989

INVER GROVE HEIGHTS, Minn. (AP) _ A police officer apologized to the families of two 13-year-old immigrants killed by a blast from his shotgun, but said the shooting was justified because he thought the boys were armed.

″I am the father of three sons and a daughter. I feel a great loss and a deep grief,″ Kenneth Murphy wrote in a letter to the families of Thai Yang and Ba See Lor, both Hmong immigrants from Southeast Asia.

″I only hope you can accept my sincere apologies and sympathies. In my 21 years as a police officer, I had hoped that I would never face this type of situation,″ he wrote, according to a copy of the letter released by his lawyer Tuesday.

The boys, both of St. Paul, were shot in the back from about 30 yards away while fleeing through a field in suburban Inver Grove Heights last week after abandoning a stolen car following a high-speed chase, investigators said.

The state Bureau of Criminal Apprehension is investigating the shooting and two special prosecutors have been appointed to take the case to a Dakota County grand jury next month.

Murphy, 54, has been placed on paid administrative leave from the Inver Grove Heights force.

In his first public comments on the shooting, Murphy said in interviews Tuesday that he feared for his life when he saw what he thought was a gun. The object turned out to be a screwdriver.

″I felt there was a weapon involved. Knowing their behavior and what they had done,″ Murphy said, his eyes tearing and voice choking as he referred to the alleged car theft and police chase.

″The first thing I thought of was a silver or chrome barrel of a pistol.″

Murphy said he fired at Yang not realizing that Lor was nearby.

When medical help arrived, Murphy said he noticed an 8- to 10-inch-long screwdriver on the ground and realized he had mistaken the gleam of tool’s shaft for a gun.

Accompanied to one interview by three of his grown children and his lawyer, Murphy said he didn’t know the two victims were so young until one of his sons told him almost nine hours after the shooting.

″It’s bad enough that it was anybody, but especially 13-year-olds,″ he said.

Lor and Yang, both born in refugee camps in Thailand after their families fled their homes in Laos, were buried several feet away from each other Sunday in St. Paul’s Oakland Cemetery.

Minnesota has the largest Hmong community in the country after California, and members of the community have alleged that the shooting was racially motivated. But Murphy and his attorney, Paul Rogosheske, said race had nothing to do with it.

″We do realize how difficult it is to move and start a new life,″ Murphy said in his letter. ″My wife also was an immigrant to this country. She feels your anguish, as only a mother can and I, as only a father can.″

Murphy’s wife is a native of Yugoslavia.

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