Pride and Prejudice

Nobody can say why Loi Nguyen fell through the cracks. All they can say is they're sorry.

(Officer Dalton was reassigned last week, after she reportedly declined to discuss the alleged discrepancies in her police report with Thunderbird High officials.)

Ryan says Loi told her that his mother was at a doctor's office. She says she tried twice unsuccessfully to contact Miet Tran there. The school also was unsuccessful in tracking down a Vietnamese translator.

"I don't think Thunderbird understands the cultural implications of the situation," says Loi's seventh-grade teacher, Joan Bergdolt. "They needed a translator there--Loi's main ability to understand, especially in a stressful situation, is still in Vietnamese. This is a real sensitivity issue, whether Loi was in the right or wrong. Thunderbird was really remiss in this. They should have met with a parent at the school, rather than dumping him off at home with no explanation."

Ryan says her secretary confirmed through AT&T's translation service that Boi Nguyen was home, and only then did she and Officer Dalton take Loi to the residence. (Again, Ryan's recollections are dramatically different from Officer Dalton's, who wrote in her report that the secretary had contacted Boi Nguyen after the trio already was on the road--the implication being that the school didn't know if anyone was at the Nguyens' until they got there.)

Loi Nguyen rode in the back seat of Dalton's marked police car on his trip home. There, the principal and the officer introduced themselves to Boi Nguyen, who was in his motorized cart in his front yard.

Loi spoke to his father briefly in Vietnamese.
The authorities left.
Loi killed himself within minutes.

(Loi's suicide note is dated the day before, which raises the question about when he had decided to kill himself. More likely is that he erred on the date in the moments before he pulled the trigger.)

Word of Loi's suicide spread on the Thunderbird campus. Fearful, they say, of another brawl, school officials decided to send three of the key Anglo participants in the Monday fight home.

"They told me they couldn't guarantee Brandy's safety on campus," Susan Grant recalls. "I didn't know what in the world was going on over there."

Joe Smith says he, too, was sent home for the same reason.
"I didn't feel that my safety was a problem," he says candidly. "The whole school was hating those [Asian] kids then, not us."

After Loi's Death
Several events transpired in the aftermath of Loi Nguyen's death.
The Nguyens held a Buddhist ceremony at their home before the funeral services at a Tolleson cemetery.

Thunderbird's Jennifer Johnson and Cecilia Ryan attended the funeral services (Johnson also attended the previous evening's visitation), and provided a school bus for anyone who wanted to attend. The bus was filled with students, Ryan says, almost all of them Asian.

School officials set up what they called a "Care and Concern" room, where grieving students could speak with counselors. But some Asian students say they chose not to avail themselves of the counseling.

"Nothing against the school, but we felt like we were on our own by then," says a junior of Vietnamese descent. "I mean, we know that not everyone on campus was against Loi or us, not even close, but we were starting to wonder about our place here."

One reason is that someone had scribbled an anti-Asian slur on a bench outside the Care and Concern room--Thunderbird officials photographed and then obliterated the graffiti.

Brandy Walmer says she cried when she heard of Loi's suicide. "It was, like, this whole fight was over nothing, just nothing, and now, this kid who I didn't know was dead. For what?"

Jonathan Duffy says he didn't know what to think: "I had strong disliking for him, but I thought he was kind of stupid to kill himself. Just because you got kicked out of school you want to kill yourself? It's pointless."

Joe Smith says he felt nothing. "The truth is, I felt kind of cold about it. I didn't really have a reaction other than, 'Oh.'"

The trio never returned to Thunderbird after Loi Nguyen died, and transferred to another school in the district.

Gloria Ybarra, chief of the Attorney General's Office's civil rights unit, says her office is investigating the Nguyen case from two angles: to determine if anyone's civil rights were violated, and to mediate between some of the contentious parties--members of the Asian community, educators, police and others (but not the non-Asian students or their parents).

Jennifer Johnson says she's implemented change at Thunderbird in the wake of Loi's death. For starters, she says, "We are starting to do more outreach to parents, make a more active link with the school. We're going to start English language classes on campus for parents. We need a broader, deeper pool of translators--face-to-face is better. I'm not sure the outcome would have been different for Loi with a face-to-face translator, but I understand everyone's concerns about the way things played out.

The principal decides she wants to say one more thing: "Does anyone in this world really believe that, if we knew what was going to happen, what Loi was going to do, that we would have just walked away from him?"

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