Hmong community mourns the loss of a family of five at the center of a murder-suicide case

There was no shortage of tears and prayers at Vadnais Lake Saturday night.

“Emotions, lot of emotions,” says Jasmine Lykhang, with the Hmong 18 Council. “This is something that’s shocked the Hmong community.”

Dozens of people came to mourn the loss of 27-year-old Yee Lee, his wife Molly Cheng, 23, and their children — 3-year-old Estella, 4-year-old Quadrillion and 5-year-old Phoenix.

Authorities say Lee shot himself the morning of July 1 at his Maplewood home.

Cheng and the children all drowned, in what investigators are calling a murder-suicide case.

“It is devastating it is sad. It is hurtful. We don’t want this to happen to any other communities,” Lykhang says. “This is such a big tragic that hit us so hard that we don’t know how to respond right now because we’re all in shock mode.”

After Lee took his own life, social workers were dispatched to help Cheng and her children.

By 4 p.m., a relative called 911, saying Cheng was going to kill her kids and herself.  

The Ramsey County Sheriff’s Office says Maplewood police issued a statewide alert to locate Cheng and the children.

Investigators then tracked the mother’s cellphone to Vadnais Lake.

There, they found Cheng’s car, with the keys and the children’s shoes on the east shore of the Lake.

After a widespread water search, their bodies were all recovered by the next morning.    

“It is such a heartbreaking event for me,” Cheng’s father, Chong told those at the vigil. “My grandchildren have always lived with me up until this point, and I do not know what to do anymore.”

Authorities say Cheng drowned her own children, then took her own life.

Her father says he believes social workers or police should have kept an at least 24-hour watch on her.

“If they had taken action to save Molly and the three children, they might be still alive today,” Chong Cheng says.  

The sheriff’s office isn’t commenting on the family’s assertion that Cheng should’ve have remained on a day-long watch.

A spokesperson does say that officers and/or social workers stayed with her for several hours.

“This shouldn’t have been the outcome,” Lykhang declares. “There should have been resources and there should have been help in the community if the parents felt that the community could help them or give them advice, or just show them a way. “

Family members say before their deaths, Cheng and Lee had plans to start a hair salon and tattoo parlor business.

They add they’re also looking for answers as to how this tragic chain of events began — why Lee would take his own life.

Lee’s father, Koua — said he appreciated those who came to show their respects.

“I would like to thank each and every one of you from the bottom of my heart,” he said.

The sheriff’s office is continuing to investigate the triple murder-suicide, while Maplewood police are investigating Lee’s death.

“The end should not have come to this,” Lykhang says. “It’s the most tragic end that could happen to a family.”

Here is a list of suicide prevention and mental health resources:

If you believe someone is at risk of suicide, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services suggests you:

  • Ask questions about whether the individual is having suicidal thoughts.
  • Call the U.S. National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 988 or 1-800-273-TALK (8255).
  • Seek help from a medical or mental health professional. If it is an emergency situation, take the person to a hospital.
  • Remove any objects from a person’s home that could be potentially used in a suicide.
  • Do not leave the person alone, if possible, until help is available.

The U.S. National Suicide Prevention organization has also compiled a list of resources to help with coping during the COVID-19 pandemic.