By Joe Fitzgerald
A City College student named Chia Huei Chiu was among five people found murdered the morning of March 23 at 16 Howth St., just a block from City College’s Ocean campus. The SFPD temporarily set up a command post in City College’s Wellness Center to facilitate the investigation.
One suspect has been arrested in connection with the murders so far. Thai Binh Luc, 32, is suspected of robbing the home on Howth St. and laying in wait for the victims before attacking them, according to assorted news reports.
According to SFPD Chief Greg Suhr, the victims were killed by blunt force and edge trauma, meaning they were bludgeoned and cut.
Spring break started just a day after the grisly scene was reported and while the rest of the college community enjoyed their vacation, one teacher began questioning police to figure out if one of the victims reported from the homicide, Chia Huei Chu, was a student from her class.
“I’ve been in shock and distress by the news in the past few days,” English as Second Language instructor Thi Thi Ma said.
By April 2, the Monday school was back in session, she was sure of what happened.
One of the victims was “Chantel” Chia Huei Chu, 30, a City College student since 2007, and one of Ma’s students.
Chu was enrolled in a P.E. “super-circuit” class, a Chinese language course, and two ESL classes this semester. Her husband, Vincent Yuanji Lei, also a victim that sad day, was registered at City College but not enrolled in any courses.
Ma sat down with her students Monday morning in their brightly colored green bungalow behind Batmale Hall and explained to them that their classmate had been murdered.
She then invited any students who knew her well to stay after class to talk.
When the clock struck 10:45, the class began to file out. A group of about ten students stayed behind, some noticeably distraught.
Ma guided their conversation about Chantel with much more steel in her voice and body than her petite, five foot frame would lead one to believe she was capable of.
“Who was Chantel, the person you knew from this class?” she asked them.
A middle aged man, Jim Lin, smiled for a moment as he spoke about her. Through his newly learned english, he spoke of how friendly she was, and how bright. The look on his face was one of nostalgia.
One of the girls, Yuan Mei, struggled with a word while describing Chantel. “Outright?” she asked, looking at Ma. Then it clicked. “Outgoing. She was outgoing.”
The rest of the group agreed that she had a great sense of humor, especially the older woman in the back. “Very funny!” she said, with a finger pointed outwards for emphasis.
Speaking to each other as much as to Ma, they recounted the little details of her life. Chantel’s family was in Taiwan, and she had an older sister. She and her husband had met through their families, though no one could remember how exactly. Chantel had hoped to start a business sending new fashions from the U.S. back to Taiwan. She was detailed in class, and always brought a wealth of information to their study groups.
She was also very ambitious. Thi Thi Ma recalled in an email that, although “Ms. Chu wrote about her embarrassment in some cases with spoken English, she shared that such linguistic drawbacks motivated her to thrive. Her dream was to become either an immigration lawyer or a business person.”
Yuan Mei also mentioned that she may have been one of the last people to speak with her, saying that she had spoken to Chantel on the phone the night of her murder. They were planning a barbeque for spring break.
It was around that time that one of the girls, Cathy Zang, began to cry. Ms. Zang had talked about Chantel’s background in the most detail, and it was clear that they were close.
It was only the first day that the students had confirmed the rumors of Chantel’s death they heard all over their short vacation. Ma then asked for some time alone with her students, and held a private talk with them for a short time past the interview.
Later, Ms. Ma recalled to The Guardsman her last day of class before spring break. Chantel was the last to leave the classroom, and in her lively and cheerful voice wished her teacher a happy spring break, urging her not to work too hard.
Ms. Ma’s last memories of Chantel were the same as the way her classmates remembered her: a vital woman who held so much optimism, and so much promise.
Thi Thi Ma and her students are raising funds for Chantel’s family. If you’re interested in donating, you can forward the check to East West Bank or email Ms. Ma at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Make donations to the East West Bank, number: 52507688. Checks can be made to “Louis Fung Yick Hong” or “Hua Shun Lei Family Memorable Fund”.