Panhia Yang knew her husband would be angry when she decided to end her 13-year marriage. So two days after filing for an order for protection, she called police to ask for an escort to her estranged husband’s St. Paul apartment to retrieve some of her things.
They said they would send someone to accompany her, but police hadn’t yet arrived when she went inside with her brother. A short while later Yang, her brother and her husband were dead.
A string of domestic killings in the Twin Cities has advocates and authorities reminding victims that they never have to face potentially violent situations alone.
“We would like people to know that it doesn’t have to be a catastrophic situation for you to pick up the phone. Don’t wait for it to be that bad,” said Claudia Waring, executive director of Asian Women United of Minnesota, which is part of a coalition of local programs focused on helping battered women.
Yang, 27, filed a petition for an order for protection against her husband, Chue Lor, two days before her death. Yang and Lor were not legally married but had wed in a traditional Hmong ceremony. The order for protection hadn’t been served to Lor before he died.
Lor “has been isolating me from my family and he doesn’t allow me to have friends,” Yang said in the petition. “He has punched me, kicked me, thrown me, and other violent acts. I am in fear for my safety.”
On March 24, she called the nonemergency line at the Ramsey County Emergency Communications Center at 3:38 p.m. to request a police escort, said Scott Williams, the center’s director. She wanted to retrieve some of her things from Lor’s apartment in the 500 block of Victoria St. N. with her brother Kong Meng Lee, 18.
She called back 15 minutes later. At some point after that, Yang went inside the apartment with Lee. Lor’s mother said a fight ensued.
Police were dispatched to the escort call at 4:28 p.m. Authorities were called about the slayings at 4:44 p.m., and police arrived within two minutes of the emergency call.
“Please, we ask that if you do make that call, wait. Do not go to that residence,” said Sgt. Paul Paulos, a St. Paul Police spokesman. “Police will always show up.”
Squads have to prioritize and respond to higher emergency calls first, said Howie Padilla, also a spokesman for the St. Paul Police.
Police can be called whenever a resident feels unsafe. The communications center gets escort-request calls for domestic situations several times a day, Williams said.
A police escort can be an important resource for those in the process of leaving a relationship, said Rebecca McLane, operations manager for the St. Paul Domestic Abuse Intervention Project. “When you’ve left the relationship, that is a really dangerous time,” she said.
It’s not uncommon for people to feel safe when they are accompanied by a family member, but that doesn’t guarantee it will be safer, McLane said.
“You think that it would be OK. ‘I will be there for a few minutes.’ But you just never know,” she said.
There are numerous resources for domestic abuse victims. Support is confidential and available anytime. Calling an advocacy program to discuss an abusive situation and create a personalized safety plan can be a critical step, advocates say.
Safety planning is an ongoing process, in which advocates take into account the victims’ and possibly their children’s crisis needs, which can range from escape planning and temporary shelter to long-term issues such as obtaining legal help.
“If anybody has a sense of doubt, has her intuition telling her anything, seek out a resource,” Waring said.