‘One less Asian to put up with’: Hate crime probed after Seal Beach woman receives threatening letter lauding husband’s death

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Police are investigating whether a hate crime was committed after an Asian woman in Seal Beach received a racist and threatening letter celebrating her husband’s recent death.

Claudia Choi called authorities Monday to report she feared the safety of her 82-year-old mother who’d received the letter at her residence in Leisure World, a large retirement community.

The handwritten, anonymous letter begins: “Now that [your husband] is gone makes it one less Asian to put up with in Leisure World.”

It goes on to say the presence of Asian Americans is not “resting well” with others in the community and closed by telling the woman to “watch out” and “go back to your country where you belong.”

The intimidating letter “disturbed the family very much,” Seal Beach police Lt. Nick Nicholas said.

“The real essence of this is that the family felt scared. And if they feel scared, then it meets some of the elements for criminal threats,” he told KTLA.

Choi says her parents were married for almost 57 years.

She described her Korean American dad, Byong Choi, as a civic-minded businessman with a big personality. He came to the U.S. on an academic scholarship and became a naturalized citizen.

Her parents moved to Leisure World upon retirement, and Claudia says her father enjoyed the community — especially the karaoke and golf — and built relationships with others there.

“He loved his neighbors, and many of them have reached out to me saying how much they loved him too,” she said.

Claudia didn’t get to see her father for some time before he died, because he’d been in intensive care for weeks amid the pandemic. “And I thought that was the worst,” she said.

But the hateful letter arrived just three days after he was laid to rest. Claudia says it was postmarked on the date of his funeral.  

“To have somebody rejoice his death, threaten my mother, tell us to go back home — this is our home,” she said. “They’ve lived here longer than they’ve lived anywhere else.”

Claudia believes the letter was sent by someone “with a lot of hate in their heart” who knew the details of her father’s death.

Investigators are now working to determine who sent the letter, including by analyzing DNA evidence, fingerprints and handwriting. Detectives are also canvassing the community and reviewing surveillance video, police said.

The incident comes amid increased scrutiny of racism toward Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders, in light of an uptick in hate crimes against the group during the pandemic and last week’s shootings in Atlanta in which a man killed eight people, six of whom were Asian women at massage parlors.

At Community Center Park in Garden Grove Tuesday evening, hundreds turned out for a vigil to speak out against the spate of attacks and mourn those lost.

“We tend to be quiet. I think it take time for us to speak up. We need to speak up,” attendee Bruce Lei said. “That’s why we come here.”

Leisure World posted a statement on its website condemning the letter and saying it was cooperating in the investigation.

Seal Beach police Chief Philip Gonshak called the incident “disgusting.”

“Across the county we are seeing more and more violence committed against Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders. We will not allow this to happen in Seal Beach,” he said in a statement.

Anyone with information can contact Detective Jon Ainley at 562-799-4100 ext. 1113 or jainley@sealbeachca.gov.

A letter to an Asian American widow that prompted a hate crime investigation is seen in a photo released March 23, 2021, by the Seal Beach Police Department.
A letter to an Asian American widow that prompted a hate crime investigation is seen in a photo released March 23, 2021, by the Seal Beach Police Department.

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