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  • Writer's pictureThe San Juan Daily Star

Among the victims in Texas shooting: A wounded 6-year-old who lost his parents and brother

People gather for a vigil for victims of a shooting the day before at the entrance to the Allen Premium Outlets in Allen, Texas, on Sunday, May 7, 2023. (Cooper Neill/The New York Times)

By Ruth Graham, Jesús Jiménez and Mary Beth Gahan

Cindy and Kyu Cho brought their two little boys to the Allen Premium Outlets to exchange a birthday present that didn’t fit their older son, who had just turned 6.

Sisters Daniela and Sofia Mendoza, both in elementary school, were there with their mother.

Aishwarya Thatikonda had come to shop with a friend before she had to head to a job site for her work at a general contracting firm.

A warm sunny day brought crowds and clusters of families to the sprawling outdoor mall in an upscale suburb north of Dallas for the most American of activities. On Saturday, it became different kind of all-American scene: the location of yet another mass shooting. By the time a police officer shot and killed the gunman, eight people had suffered fatal wounds, including three small children. At least seven other people were injured.

It was the country’s second-deadliest mass shooting this year, indiscriminately wiping out individuals, and nearly one entire family.

Both the Mendoza sisters, 11 and 8, were killed. Their mother was shot and is hospitalized. The Cho parents and their 3-year-old, James, died. Their 6-year-old, William, was shot and survived.

Thatikonda, 26, died, as did a security guard named Christian LaCour, who was 20. Elio Cumana-Rivas, a 32-year-old man from Dallas, was also killed, the state’s Department of Public Safety said Monday.

The gunman appeared to embrace white supremacist ideology, based on social media accounts investigators believe belong to him. Yet his motive is unclear.

The region has become a magnet for Asians, especially South Asians, many of them professionals who work for the multitude of large corporations based in nearby Plano and Frisco.

About 25 miles outside Dallas, Allen, Texas, is one of the booming suburbs north of the city whose populations have exploded in recent years. The surrounding area is home to a number of large American corporations, including the PGA in Frisco, which was named the fastest-growing large city in the nation by the Census Bureau in 2020.

Allen, a former railroad town, is now home to a $60 million stadium that holds 18,000 people, called by ESPN “the palace of high school football” when it opened a decade ago. Allen has continued to grow since then, topping 100,000 people in the 2020 census.

“We are one of the safest cities in the state and country, even though this person randomly chose to visit our city to deliver evil,” Allen Mayor Kenneth Fulk, said in an email. He declined further comment.

The Chos, a Korean American family, lived in a two-story house in a newer neighborhood in Dallas, 14 miles south of the outlet mall.

Kyu Cho worked as an immigration lawyer at a firm in Richardson, Texas. A profile for Cho on the firm’s website said he was born in South Korea in the early 1990s and raised in Dallas. “As an immigrant himself, Kyu has a deep pride, respect, and appreciation for the American Dream,” the profile says. Cho was learning Spanish because he represented many Spanish-speaking immigrants in court.

In his free time, the profile said, he participated in church activities and enjoyed “watching his two young boys grow up.”

Their neighbor, Kristy Kim, has a son the same age as William, the 6-year-old who survived. The two families had attended birthday parties and neighborhood play dates together since 2018, when the subdivision was built. The families both attended New Song Church, a large Korean Baptist congregation in nearby Carrollton.

“They were quiet and reserved,” Kim said on Monday. “They were definitely homebodies, but they were so kind.”

The area north of Dallas is one of the places where “Asian immigrants are the driving force of growth,” as Texas Monthly put it in a 2021 cover story on “The Newest Texans.”

The Dallas area has the state’s largest Korean American and Indian populations, according to the Pew Research Center in 2019. Hindu temples dot the suburban landscape north of the city. And Dallas recently unveiled bilingual street signs in an older area informally known as Koreatown; “New Koreatown” is in Carrollton, with an H Mart and plentiful restaurants.

State Rep. Mihaela Plesa represents the district where the Cho family lived. The area includes parts of Allen, Plano, Richardson and Dallas. More than half of the population identify as minorities and the largest demographic is Asian, said Plesa’s chief of staff, Karrol Rimal.

Daniela Mendoza, a fourth grader, and her sister Sofia, a second grader, were students an elementary school in Wylie, a city southeast of Allen, David Vinson, superintendent of the Wylie Independent School District, said in an email to parents.

Their mother, Ilda, was in critical condition Monday, Vinson said.

“Our love for our kiddos and each other will get us through this,” Vinson wrote. “Daniela and Sofia will not be forgotten. Hug your kids, and tell them you love them.”

Flags at the girls’ school, Cheri Cox Elementary, flew at half-staff Monday. Principal Krista Wilson called the girls “rays of sunshine.”

Aishwarya Thatikonda worked at a general contracting firm in Frisco, where her boss, Srinivas Chaluvadi, described her as being like a goddaughter to him. Thatikonda celebrated family birthdays at his house, and came to see him for a traditional Hindu blessing on her own birthday, which was coming up again next week. Last year, he accompanied her to her brother’s wedding in India.

On Saturday, Chaluvadi received a call from an architect waiting on a job site for Thatikonda, who had uncharacteristically not shown up on time. He drove to her house in McKinney, which she shared with several roommates, then to the mall, and eventually to several local hospitals. It was not until Sunday that she was confirmed as one of the victims.

Chaluvadi described Thatikonda as a diligent worker who was “indispensable” to his firm. She also hoped to marry later this year, he said; her parents were in the process of “finding a suitable boy for her.” Instead, they are now arranging to bring her body back home to Hyderabad.

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