Six young lives will once again be remembered by the community – 11 years after their tragic deaths, in a ceremony to add monuments to their unmarked graves on September 13 from 1:00 to 3:00 p.m. at Forest Lawn Cemetery, 1800 Edgerton Street, St. Paul.
The six children, ranging between age 11 and 5, Koua-Eai Kong, Samson Kong, Nali Kong, Tanglung Kong, A-ee Kong and Tangkee Kong, belonged to their mother when they were alive.
However, their mother, Khoua Her, took their lives one at a time, before she attempted her own suicide on September 3, 1998. She is now serving a life sentence in Shakopee Prison for Women.
It was an incomprehensible tragedy and the grief over the children was felt by the community as much as friends and family. That grief has lingered with the unmarked graves since the September 14, 1998 burial ceremony.
“I will never forget each child being lowered into their grave one by one,” said Patrick Hogan, a superintendent at Forest Lawn Cemetery, who was a grounds crew worker in 1998. “It seem like it would never end.”
Hogan recalled that community members started voicing their concern after learning that the gravesites were not marked from a column written by Ruben Rosario in the Saint Paul Pioneer Press. A fundraising drive resulted from sparked community interest to make donations to mark the unmarked gravesites.
Tzianeng Vang took the initiative to form a planning committee to mark the graves. The Poj Koob Yawn Ntxwv (Committee to Set Grave Site Markers for Six Children), was to him based on a belief that these children belonged to the community.
“I am a father and a youth worker most of my life,” Vang said. “The lives of children mean everything to me.”
“So, losing six innocent lives was hard enough, but to be without any type of memorial markers, I just had to go ahead and start the process rather than ask others to do it,” he added.
The planning committee began to involve people that had heard, known or attended the funeral. Then others joined that moved to action after learning the story.
Cindy Xiong, a 22-year-old college student, never knew the children personally but she attended the funeral when she was just 12. She said it was incomprehensible how those children had died at the hands of their mother so tragically.
“When I found out the children didn’t have grave stone… I was saddened,” Xiong said. “I believe as a human being, that when you pass on, a grave marker is there to recognize your existence in this world. It seemed to me they were forgotten.”
Vang said the planning committee has received a strong response through donations so far, and that any remaining funds would be used for other similar purpose or a children welfare project. Forest Lawn Cemetery and Schoenrock Monument are the primary donors.
“Anything that I can do to help recognize them in terms of the grave markers, I am happy to do,” said Hogan, who is also one of the committee members, “not only because they deserve it, but because I think it provides some amount of closure not only for their friends and family, but also for the community at large.”
Hogan said he hopes that the event will help people to recognize the importance of burial and memorial in a cemetery.
“It is not only a testament to, and recognition of, the deceased, but also an outlet for the living to grieve and to celebrate the lives of those who have gone before us,” he added.
For more information about the ceremony or to contribute contact Tzianeng Vang at firstname.lastname@example.org or write to Poj Koob Yawn Ntxwv, c/o Committee to Set Grave Site Markers for Six Children, 1394 North Jackson Street, Suite 312, St. Paul, MN 55117.
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