When Boo Yeol Park came to Washington from Korea two years ago, he was looking for a better way of life. He wanted a good education for his children. He wanted to own a business.
On Thursday night, his dream was shattered by a shotgun-wielding youth who robbed Park's Southwest Washington grocery store and left the 50-year-old immigrant dead on the floor.
Park's murder was the latest and most violent crime yet in a series committed against Koreans who have moved into the District in recent years and purchase small grocery stores in low-income neighborhoods.
With a inability to speak English and little familiarity with the American way of life, they have become easy prey for robberies, larcenies and shoplifting, police say. And their general distrust of police -- stemming, they say, from experiences in their home country -- has made it difficult for police to get cooperation from them in their investigations.
Koreans own about 50 percent of the "Mom and Pop" grocery stores in the city, according to real estate brokers, food wholesalers and city business leaders. Most are in inner city neighborhoods, where low-income families live.
Although they make up less than 5 percent of the District's population, they have been the victims of about 20 percent of the reported armed robberies of grocery stores thus far this year.
"Almost every store is robbed once or twice every year," said Eugene Kay, former president of the 800-member Association of Korean Businessmen.
Despite the crimes, many Korean grocers continue to stay in the business that has absorbed their life savings.
Boo Yeol Park was no different. He bought his store at 4686 Martin Luther King Ave., SW., about a year ago.
"He was proud of it," his daughter, Hue Yon, said yesterday as she sat in the family's cramped two bedroom apartment in Landover. "It was a good store."
Hue Yon Park said her father's store had fallen prey to larcenies and shoplifting, but never a robbery until Thursday.
It was about 7 p.m., when two men, one brandishing a sawed-off shotgun and the other carrying a handgun, walked into the store.
"They shouted 'Don't move everybody or we'll kill you!" said Jin Oh, Park's brother-in-law who was in the store at the time of the holdup.
Park and his brother-in-law, his sister and four customers who were in the store stood with their hands high, while the man with the handgun tore furiously at the cash register, but couldn't open it. The man then grabbed Park's sister, Sung Oh, by the hair, struck her on the head with his handgun and ordered her to open the register. She did.
The two grabbed the $60 in bills and change from the register. Then the man with the shotgun turned and fired once, hitting Park in the chest and killing him.
"I don't know what we are going to do now," said Hue Yon Park, a sophomore at the University of Maryland. "I'd like to go back to my country. sBut my father brought us here to get a better education. I won't go back until my brother finishes college. My father would have wanted it that way. It was his dream."
His daughter said she doesn't know if the family will keep the store.
Yesterday a sign reading "Temporary Closed" hung in the front window of Park's Fort Drum Market, near an apartment complex for low-income families and across the street from a park.
"It's a rough neighborhood," said C. J. Faison, co-owner of the barber shop next door to Park's store.
"Sure there were people who went in there and stole from him," the 30-year-old Faison said. "They think they can steal from him because he didn't understand the language. Any sign of weakness and they would try to take advantage of it."
Faison said he once watched Park chase some teen-agers who had robbed his store. "He would stick up for his merchandise."
However, Faison said he didn't think Park was robbed just because he is Korean. "There was a black guy who used to own the store and they robbed him too. He killed a guy who tried to rob him."
Yesterday at the Park home, relatives and friends gathered. "I invited him to the United States and look what happened," Jin Oh, who has lived in America for seven years, said tearfully.
A picture of Park, who had worked as a teacher and custom tailor in Korea, was placed between two candles on a makeshift alter. Incense was burning.
Police yesterday said they had made no arrests in the killing. They said they received full cooperation from the family, who thanked them when they left police headquarters Thursday night.
But many police officers say cooperation is not always the case in crimes against Koreans.
"Some of these people work 14-hour days seven days a week and they don't want to take the time to come to a police line-up or court," said one detective.
One detective said he once had to pick up a Korean woman to take her to police headquarters and agree to personally return her to her store before she would agree to cooperate with a robbery investigation, in which the suspect had been arrested.
Chang Kay, an accountant for numerous Korean grocers in the area, said some Koreans don't report the crimes to the police because "they have the general notion that they can't do too much. The criminal is back on the street the next day."
Kay and other Koreans also say many Koreans are distrustful of police officers. "In Korea, the government used the police to oppress the people,' Kay said. "Many haven't forgotten those days."
In fact, Kay said, there is an old Korean saying that if the baby cries, the police are coming.
Capt. Ronald Crytzer of the robbery squad said his office is very concerned about the robberies against the Koreans. He is trying to schedule a meeting with them in which detectives can give the Koreans some tips on better protection and explain how a police investigation is conducted.