Store Owner Remembered

Workers, Customers Recall Korean Native Killed In Robbery As Benevolent Man

July 18, 2009|By Nick Madigan | Nick Madigan,

Chris Amos always had a routine when he closed up at night.

To make sure there was no one lurking outside the liquor store in Fullerton's Putty Hill Plaza Shopping Center, Amos would leave first, check the parking lot, and wait for his boss to walk out of the building and get into his car safely.

"I wouldn't leave until he did," said Amos, 28, who had worked at the store for eight years.

But on Thursday, his boss, Joon Am Kang, was alone in Putty Hill Liquors when two men wearing stockings as masks burst in about 9 p.m. and demanded money, police said. In a surveillance video, one of the men is seen raising a gun and firing at Kang's chest. The store owner slumped to the floor. His assailants disappeared. Police said it was not immediately clear whether any money had been stolen.

Kang, 57, a native of South Korea who had owned the store for 15 years, was declared dead shortly afterward. He leaves a wife, Tae, and a 30-year-old son.

Baltimore County police were searching for the killers Friday, but said they had little to go on other than a scanty description.

"He was like my second dad," Amos said Friday as he stood outside the store. Hours earlier, summoned to the scene of the shooting, he had waited in the parking lot as his boss left the building for the last time.

"I didn't leave until they put him in the transport," Amos said, his eyes dimmed by grief and exhaustion after a sleepless night. "He was a good man. Me and Kang, we had our spats, but it was me and Kang. We were like the same person. The list is too long to say all the things he did for me."

Pulling a set of keys from his pocket, Amos unlocked the store's glass front door and affixed to it a notice that said, "Business temporarily closed." Stepping over bouquets left by mourners, he went inside and showed the crime scene to a couple of the store's former employees, who had come to lend support.

"There's work to be done, and if Kang was here he'd expect me to do it," Amos said after emerging. "I don't want his wife to see this. I'm going to come back and clean up the mess."

Speaking on his cell phone to a friend who had evidently offered to help, Amos said, "I hope you have a strong stomach."

Alex Walls, 29, who had worked at the store on and off for a few years, said he and Amos had retrieved Kang's personal effects and some of his business files and were preparing to deliver them to his widow. Kang's car was in the parking lot where he had left it.

Walls said crime was always a concern. About five years ago, he said, someone brandishing a syringe went into the liquor store, demanded money and threatened to infect an employee with the virus that causes AIDS.

Kang, he said, was a benevolent boss. "If you could do the job, he'd take care of you," Walls said. "If you needed work, he'd help you out."

When he saw on television Friday morning that the store had been held up and a "male clerk" shot, "we all thought it was Chris Amos," Walls said. Until it was clarified that Kang was the victim, friends barraged Amos with phone calls.

"He hasn't had a wink of sleep because everyone's been calling to check on him," Walls said.

As he spoke, several regular customers approached the store and asked why it was closed. When told the reason, Jimmy Seward exclaimed, "Oh, Jesus! The Korean guy, right? Oh, man, that's terrible. He was a nice guy."

Another customer appeared equally aghast. Then, after a pause, she asked, "Is the store going to open?"

From afar, it looked as though it was still in business. A neon sign with moving type advertised "spirits and wines," lottery tickets and the services of an ATM machine. Amos said he had no intention of turning the sign off.

Jamie Frazier, who sometimes worked for Kang as a cashier, also went by the store Friday. "He was a great man, one of the best there was," she said. "The community loved him."

Her daughter Marisa, one of her 4-year-old twins - they called him Uncle Kang - tugged at her shirt with an urgent question.

"Mommy, are they going to find out who shot him?" Marisa asked.

"Yes, honey," Frazier replied. "They'll try very hard to find him."

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