The couch upon which Luckily Ky’s mother, Chheng Muoy, sits seems to swallow the petite Cambodian immigrant. Gently rocking back and forth, her hands clasped together on her lap, Muoy starts to cry. Not wails of anguish, but more stifled sobs — sprung forth from the depths of grief only a mother who has buried a child could know.
Her 18-year-old daughter Linda sits on the floor beside her and reaches for Muoy’s hand in an attempt to comfort her.
Across the room, also on the floor, sits Luckily’s father, Suor Ky, and his 21-year-old son, Lucky.
Two other sisters, 34 and 36, are married.
A male relative exits the kitchen bearing two cups of Jasmine tea — loose tea leaves gather at the bottom of the cup — for the unexpected guests.
In some cultures — Asian among them — it is considered disrespectful not to offer some form of food or drink to a visitor.
Next door to the Ky residence at 17th and Moore streets is New Market — the family-owned grocery store and the last place Muoy saw her 19-year-old son Luckily alive. And it was the place where Lucky lost not only a brother, but also his best friend.
The Community College of Philadelphia sophomore and St. John Neumann graduate was gunned down after he walked in on a robbery of his parents’ store Dec. 8.
Two armed males entered New Market around 6 p.m. and ordered the victim’s mother to step out from behind a bulletproof-glass-enclosed counter where she was working, police said. At that time, Luckily walked through a door in the shop that leads to the family’s dwelling. The attackers grabbed the teen, who had attempted to come to his mother’s rescue, and in the ensuing struggle, he was shot twice in the chest and once in the right ankle, police said.
Luckily Ky was taken to Thomas Jefferson University Hospital, where he died an hour later. Along with him died his gift — art. "He was very talented," said Lucky.
The shooters took a life in vain, because they fled New Market empty-handed. They are still on the run.
Friday at police headquarters, Police Commissioner Sylvester M. Johnson announced that the Citizens Crime Commission had issued a $2,500 reward leading to the arrest of Ky’s killers. The agency is administering the reward, which was posted by Garnett Littlepaige, owner of Scotland Yard Security Services, and also on behalf of Men United for a Better Philadelphia. Men United is a nonprofit group striving to reduce violence in the city.
Santo Montecalvo, a former South Philly resident and vice president of the Citizens Crime Commission, said it’s a sad story all the way around — especially at this time of year.
"We at the Crime Commission want to be involved in any way to bring these perpetrators to justice and to help bring some closure to the family of Luckily Ky," Montecalvo said.
Within days, the reward more than tripled to $10,000. The United Cambodian-American Youth Association had raised an additional $7,500 to match the $2,500, said public-relations spokesperson Chhen Heng. To boost its fundraising efforts, the youth association enlisted the help of fellow cultural organizations, including the Southeast Asian Mutual Association, the Vietnamese Association of Greater Philadelphia and the Chinese Overseas Association of Greater Philadelphia, Heng noted.
The victim’s parents are of both Cambodian and Chinese descent, which aided the widespread support, the spokesperson added.
"It’s not fair. There is no justice. There is no suspect in this case," Heng said. "We needed to bring the reward higher so there is a witness who will come forward."
Luckily Ky was involved with Heng’s organization, although he was not an official member.
"Luckily Ky was a future Cambodian leader and it’s sad to see him go like that," Heng said.
Motivated by a concern for Ky’s family, the United Cambodian-American Youth Association is offering support beyond the reward money.
The group organized a community rally Saturday at 17th and Moore. Commissioner Johnson, Men United for a Better Philadelphia and members of the community participated on behalf of Ky and all murder victims.
"We live in a diverse community and we need to come together as one. We have to work together to get back our streets," Heng said.
Heng, who lives at Sixth and Ritner, is also a community organizer for Victim Witness Services of South Philadelphia at 1210 S. Broad St.
Speaking on behalf of their parents, who don’t know much English, Linda and Lucky Ky have been very visible and vocal — utilizing the glow of the media spotlight on their brother’s death.
"We want everybody to know he was a really good guy," Linda said.
The outpouring of community support is overwhelming to the Ky family. Complete strangers moved by the tragedy have offered words of kindness, Linda noted.
"We appreciate it and it’s nice to have the support of so many people. We want to thank the community for support and its efforts in making this easier for us," Lucky said.
"It makes us feel so much better," added Linda. "It’s helped us so much. We have no words to describe the support. It is beyond appreciated."
Soon after the brutal crime, friends, family members and neighbors erected a makeshift memorial on the steps of the market. Stuffed animals, handwritten messages and candles were just some of the tokens left behind to honor a life cut short.
A box of Citizens Crime Commission fliers announcing the $10,000 reward was placed by the shrine.
And, in keeping with Buddhist tradition, a memorial has been set up inside the Ky home. For seven days, two white candles burned; their flames were never extinguished. Instead, family members replaced the candles when they neared their end, before they had the chance to burn out, Lucky explained. Fresh flowers at the shrine also are replaced before they die, his sister added.
Some of the victim’s favorite food and drink were laid out in accordance with tradition. Every time the Kys would prepare a meal, they would serve Luckily first by putting a bowl of food at the shrine, Linda explained.
Like hundreds of thousands of Cambodian refugees, Suor Ky and Chheng Muoy came to this country so their children could have a better life in 1982. Luckily was born in the Bronx, his father said.
The family owned New Market for just two years before their son was slain inside its walls.
"It’s sad that we came here as refugees in the ’80s and we escaped persecution and now we’re living here in fear," said the youth association’s Heng.
Citing the bulletproof glass inside the Kys’ store, the spokesperson said Asian shop owners should not have to resort to such tactics, but conceded the escalating rate of violence in the city demands they take preventive measures. "I’ve noticed that many Asians are living in fear," Heng said.
In fact, Linda said, the family was prompted to install the bulletproof glass at New Market after a robbery attempt a couple of years ago.
It was just this past July that another Asian man was slain in his South Philly business. Dayu Yee, 31, was fatally shot during a robbery of Jade Express, a Chinese takeout at 1601 Wharton St. The gunmen made off with an undetermined amount of money, police said.
That crime and another shooting at a Chinese restaurant in North Philly prompted the Fujian Association of the Greater Philadelphia Area — a group that looks out for the interests of Asian residents and business owners — to hold a press conference. The forum, held in Chinatown, called for increased police attention. A host of police brass, including Commissioner Johnson, attended the press conference.
Now another deadly crime has seemed to underscore the danger for Asian business owners — and, for the Ky family, the fragility of life.
Lucky said everyone should let their relatives know how much they are loved.
"You never know what can happen the next day," added Linda, breaking down in tears.
Anyone with information that could lead to the arrest of the individuals who killed Luckily Ky should call the Citizens Crime Commission TIPLINE at 215-546-TIPS. All calls will remain anonymous. Or call the Homicide Division at 215-686-3335/36.