Sixteen young Koreans met in the midnight darkness in Rock Creek Park yesterday and tried to settle rivalries in a short, brutal clash that left one 19-year-old man dead and a 20-year-old man with broken facial bones, Montgomery County police said.
Police and members of the county's Korean community said that violence in a field off a dead-end street in Wheaton appeared to be related to an incident several weeks ago when members from one of the groups swore at members of the rival group.
"It really doesn't make much sense. This is classic 'West Side Story' except there's no girl," said Barry Lipsky, the Montgomery detective who is leading the investigation, referring to the Broadway musical that dealt with ethnic street gang violence in New York City. But police yesterday stopped short of calling the Wheaton incident gang related.
Still reeling from the sexual assault and slaying of an 18-year-old Korean girl in April in Gaithersburg, church and civic leaders of the 10,000-member Korean community in Montgomery yesterday were trying to make sense of the violence. "It sends a shock and sorrow to everybody involved in the Korean community," said the Rev. Won Ki Kim of the Korean Baptist Church on Randolph Road in Silver Spring. Two of the Korean youths involved in the fight worship with their families at the church.
"For many years the leaders of the Korean community have warned the parents of the impending dangers, because something like this is not new in the Korean communities of Los Angeles, Chicago and New York," Kim said.
Dead of a stab wound in the stomach is Ung Kun Ahn of 1637 E. Jefferson St., Rockville, a soccer and baseball player who graduated from Woodward High School on June 9.
Charged as an adult with murder in Ahn's slaying is 17-year-old Sung Woo Chung of 2700 Briggs Road, Wheaton. Chung, who dropped out of Paint Branch High School in Silver Spring, is being held without bond at Montgomery County Detention Center.
Jong Hyup Yi, 21, of 4413 Faroe Ct., Rockville, was released yesterday after treatment for fractured facial bones and cuts at Montgomery General Hospital. "The guy's face was literally broken -- boy, was he hurting," Lipsky said.
Because of the brutality of Yi's beating with a baseball bat, police have charged two Korean youths with the rare crime of mayhem, which means an attack aimed at permanent disfigurement. They are Jin Ho Yun, a 19-year-old junior at Woodward High, who lives at 212 Congressional La. in the same apartment complex where the slain teen-ager lived, and a 17-year-old youth who attends Gonzaga College High School in the District. He was not named because he is a juvenile.
Police yesterday gave this account of the fight: Two groups of eight Korean youths each confronted each other shortly after midnight yesterday in an open field at the dead end of Dewey Road and Edgebrook Drive in the Wheaton section of Rock Creek Park. Pairing off one-on-one, the youths, ages 17 to 20, fought with a knife, an ax, baseball bats and homemade nunchuks, described by police as deadly weapons made of two pieces of wood linked by a chain and used to hit or strangle.
A nearby resident heard the commotion and called police at 12:20 a.m. Police said they arrived less than five minutes later. Ahn, bleeding from a knife wound in the stomach, was rushed to Suburban Hospital in Bethesda, where he was pronounced dead on arrival.
Yi, his face cut and bleeding, was taken to Montgomery General. Kwang Hyun Choi, 18, of Rockville, and Kwang Paik, 19, whose address was unknown, were taken to Holy Cross Hospital where they were treated for unspecified injuries and released.
The youths apparently had arranged to meet Thursday night to settle a squabble begun weeks ago over an insult, according to police.
"They had gotten into a fight several weeks back and it stemmed from that -- one group had picked on another group and back and forth. It started over swearing . . . " Lipsky, the investigator, said.
Police said the 16 young men were part of informal, rival groups rather than formal, organized gangs with names, bylaws, clubhouses, and leaders.
As police worked yesterday to sort out the details of the violence, families of the youths tried privately to sort out their grief and fears.
Members of the Ahn household yesterday hurried from the parking lot at their plain but tidy complex into the family's second-floor apartment, their heads down as if in hiding. Outside the door, a woman shook her head at a reporter and whispered, "Not today."
At the Chung house in Silver Spring, a girl who answered the door told a reporter that the family was "not in the mood to talk." Chung is scheduled for arraignment for Ahn's slaying on Monday, according to police.