UM shooting victim is improving, but family worries about her sight

Elizabeth Lee, 20, loves art, wants to be a curator

April 29, 2003|By Jason Song | Jason Song,SUN STAFF

Elizabeth "Meejung" Lee could look at a painting and tell from the brushstrokes that it was a Monet.

But as the 20-year-old University of Maryland student lies in a hospital with a bullet wound that doctors fear will affect her sight, her family worries whether she will be able to see anything, much less fine art.

"We're hoping that she can keep her vision, at the very least," said her aunt, Carolyn Lee. "She loves art so much."

Lee was shot in a parking garage Friday afternoon on the College Park campus by her former boyfriend, Ki-Seong Kim, a George Washington University business major who then turned the gun on himself, according to police.

Kim, described as a gentle Christian who talked of becoming a missionary, died a few hours later.

The crime has sent shock waves through both campuses and the area's Korean-American community. Lee and Kim had dated for nearly three years, and the two families were friendly. Both families attended the First Korean Presbyterian Church of Washington. The congregation is rushing between the households, trying to comfort relatives.

While Lee is expected to survive the shooting, family members are anxious about her future. Her ambition has been to become a museum curator.

"We hope she can get out of the hospital as soon as possible and fulfill her dreams," said her cousin, Debbie Lee.

Lee and Kim, who was 21, broke up about a month ago, according to her family. The pair had gone to the church for years and had gradually evolved from friends to a couple. Since the breakup, the families had seen each other several times at church, and Kim didn't seem aggressive or depressed, Lee's relatives say.

But Friday, police said, Kim used his Volkswagen Jetta to block in Lee's Honda Civic at a garage next to the new basketball arena, then shot her in the head with a pistol before killing himself. Police have declined to say where Kim got the gun.

When Lee arrived at the Washington Hospital Center, she was unresponsive and doctors feared that she wouldn't survive the night. The bullet had entered her left temple and exited through her right.

But she responds through hand motions and has begun to talk. Doctors expect her to survive, family members say, though bullet fragments could affect her vision, and she will need extensive plastic surgery.

Family members describe Lee as trusting, almost to the point of being naive. When she visited her cousin, Debbie, in New York about two weeks ago, Lee seemed astounded when the cab driver circled the block several times to build up the fare. "She asked, `Why would people do that?'" Debbie said.

She taught Sunday school at her church and found it hard to discipline her 5- and 6- year-old students. "She always said the kids didn't listen to her because she was too nice," Debbie said.

Elizabeth Lee emigrated from South Korea when she was a toddler and lived with her family in Burtonsville. She enjoyed studying art history and has wanted to become a museum curator when she graduated, her family said. While Lee was well-versed in artists like Van Gogh, she was especially interested in art with religious overtones. She was a member of the Korean Campus Ministry, a Christian group aimed at Korean-Americans.

The shooting has been doubly painful for the two families because they are relatively close. Debbie Lee was a bridesmaid in Kim's sister's wedding. Kim "had been in our house many times," said Carolyn Lee.

The families are making an effort to communicate, and some of the Kims have visited Lee in the hospital. "They are welcome here," said Carolyn Lee, who said that she and others plan to attend Kim's funeral.

The Kims could not be reached for comment yesterday. They issued a statement Friday night that expressed their concern for Lee and their sorrow over the death of their only son.

While the Lees generally decline to talk about Kim, others describe him as a considerate young man who would give rides to underclassmen at George Washington and cook them Korean dishes.

"He was always willing to help people when they needed it," said Jung Kang, a staff member at a campus Bible study group where Kim was a member.

Kang said that Kim, a sophomore who had transferred from College Park before the spring 2002 semester, had been in a good mood despite his breakup with Lee. Kim, an international business major, had recently talked about becoming a missionary after he graduated, Kang said.

"That's why this is so baffling," Kang sad. "Nobody had ever even seen him angry."

Church members said they are trying to support both families through the ordeal. Parishioners have been going from the Kims' home in Silver Spring to the hospital in Northwest Washington, bringing food and flowers and offering to run errands for the Lees.

"Everyone is in shock," said the Rev. Seong Goo Cha. "We're trying to pray for everyone."

Sun staff writers Alec MacGillis and Stephanie Hanes contributed to this article.

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