Family reels from awful news

‘He had no enemies,’ says brother of 17-year-old shooting victim

January 4, 2006 

At 17, Samnang Kok was a brother, son and father.

His family remembered him as all this and more: the teenage boy who loved playing Halo, watching early-morning TV with his 18-month-old son and fixing things around the house for his mom.

Kok died Wednesday morning, gunned down by a fellow student in the halls of Foss High School, Tacoma police said.

“I love my kid,” said Rorth Kok, Samnang’s father. “I work hard and I care about my kid.”

Rorth Kok, his wife, children and extended family gathered at the Koks’ home on Tacoma’s East Side.

They pulled photos for Samnang’s memorial service, planned for next week. They answered the oft-ringing phone. They cried, huddled on the couch and tried to grasp the reality of Samnang’s death.

“It doesn’t seem real,” said Samnang’s cousin, Chan Sou, 23.

In Samnang’s garage bedroom, the mother of his son, Tiari Johnson, 16, hugged her boy, Makhai, and sobbed.

“He is everything anybody would ever ask for: smart, nice, kind,” she said.

The Kok family is Cambodian. Ry Sou, Samnang’s mother, was pregnant with him when she emigrated to the United States.

“His name means good luck,” she said. “Because I got to come here. Have food. Have a house. I wasn’t by myself.”

His parents said Samnang was a good son. He’d go to school and come home to take care of Makhai. Family members and friends at the house said Samnang had no enemies, didn’t get into trouble and wasn’t affiliated with any gangs.

Samnang moved out the family’s house into the garage, though his mother warned him it would be cold. There his dad outfitted him with a sleigh bed, weight set and television.

“He had everything in here,” Rorth Kok said.

His friends would visit his bedroom to play video games. And in the morning, before going to school, he’d watch TV with his son.

Samnang’s parent’s reminded him of the value of an education – something not easy to come by in Cambodia.

“You have to study hard.” Rorth Kok said. “He liked to study.”

His life wasn’t easy, but he had support.

His older brother, Rith Kok, 25, said it was tough for Samnang to raise a son and go to school at the same time.

“But he had no problem making friends at all,” the brother said. “He had no enemies.”

Samnang was easygoing, quiet and someone who liked to make others happy, his family said. He liked basketball. Growing up, he was best friends with his little sister, Lisa Kok, 13, and though Samnang was in high school, they still talked.

His family and friends had high hopes for the young man, who was still figuring out what he wanted his future to be. His father and brother thought he should join the Army.

“I didn’t want him to get stuck in Tacoma working every day,” Rith Kok said. “I wanted him to experience what was out there and see his options.”

Though the family said Tiari Johnson and Samnang had recently broken up, Johnson said she and Samnang had plans for the future and dreams of travel.

The two met five years ago. They liked playing pool together and going to the waterfront.

“We’d sit here and predict our future,” Johnson said, Makhai in her lap. “He never knew as a career what he wanted. He wanted to go to college and then move to somewhere and have a good life.”

Kelly Kearsley: 253-597-8573

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