Community support has been pouring in for the Mountain View couple who’s grandparents were killed and 2-year-old daughter sexually assaulted on Memorial Day weekend. Last week, an event for the family at the Northway Mall raised nearly $25,000. It was organized in just a few days by an Anchorage woman who didn’t know the family but wanted to find a way to help.
When Miriam Aarons encountered a news story on Facebook about the killing of an elderly couple and the sexual assault of their great-granddaughter two weekends ago, she got a sick feeling in her stomach.
“It’s one of those things when you come across, it kind of makes you want to tune out of the world and live in your own bubble,” she said. “My initial thought was I should just get totally off of Facebook and stop reading the news.”
Aarons is pregnant with twins, due in two months. The day she read the story was a Sunday. Her family gave her a baby shower that day. It made her feel surrounded with love. But what she’d read gnawed at her.
“I saw some parallels between me and family. Like the mom is pregnant. I found that out. She has two toddlers, a 2-year-old and 4-year old, and I have 3-year-old son,” Aarons said.
The next day, Memorial Day, she started thinking about organizing an event to raise money for the family. She’d never done anything like that before. She had no idea how to even contact them:
“I said to my husband Joe, ‘do you think it would be crazy if I put on a fundraiser or like a spaghetti feed?’ And he said ‘yeah, I think it might be crazy. You’re really pregnant and maybe somebody else in the community will step forward,’” she said.
A friend suggested she get in touch with Mao Tosi, a Mountain View community organizer who also manages the Northway Mall. She messaged him on Facebook and he wrote Aarons back right away: “Let’s do it.”
Tosi suggested they have the event in two days at the Northway Mall. Aarons set up a page on Facebook, and blasted it out on her social networks. Within hours, hundreds of people were following.
“From there, it just kind of blew up,” Aarons said.
It turned out lots of people felt like Aarons. They just wanted to do something. Money started pouring in online from all over the place. The donors were doctors, church people, radio personalities, laborers, corporate executives, tattoo artists and strippers.
Wednesday night, the parking lot filled with people. There was music and dancing. Aarons says it was a cross section of Anchorage.
“It was really awesome to see so many people come out. And people really dug deep into their pockets. And everybody was getting their dance on too… it was like little kids were dancing and grownups. It was really cool,” she said.
A leader in the Cambodian community, introduced Aarons to Von and Lisa Seng, the parents of the 2-year-old. She hadn’t planned on meeting them. With everything they had gone through, she didn’t want to impose. When she saw them, emotion washed over her.
“They said they were really grateful and after knowing what they’ve gone through and everything, I could see stress etched on their faces and heartache too,” Aarons said.
When the event was over, Aarons and Tosi had raised $23,000.
Aarons: “I texted him that number that night.
O’Malley: “What did he say?”
Aarons: He texted me back OMG!
O’Malley: “And how did that feel?”
Aarons: “It just felt really good to know that I was helping them in some way.”
About $2,000 has come in since then.
Von Seng says the money will cover funeral expenses for his grandparents. He says his daughter is recovering but the fallout from the violence hasn’t stopped.
His great grandmother, Sreap Yan, is at Providence Hospital. She’s in her 90s and suffers from dementia. She witnessed what happened at the house. Since then, she’s been agitated and having nightmares. Then she had a major stroke. Doctors told the family that she’s not expected to recover. Von believes she was traumatized. He says the community support has been comforting, but he still can’t make sense of how he and his family found themselves in middle of this nightmare caused by a stranger who happened to pick their window to crawl into.
This story is a part of a collaboration between the Anchorage Daily News and Alaska Public Media.