The fourth of July, a day of celebration for most, was instead a day of tragedy for one family in the Fair Crest community of Centreville.
Fairfax County police responded to a 911 call of Sang Byung Kim, 46, stating, “My wife die, my wife die. I killed her, I killed her.” When police arrived at 13651 Sweet Woodruff Lane, they found his wife, Hae Ja Kim, 43, on the kitchen floor in a pool of blood.
An autopsy determined she had died from multiple stab wounds to the throat and chest, according to police. Kim was arrested and taken into custody without incident and is now being held at the Adult Detention Center. He has a court date of Aug. 17. Family friends say two teen-agers were in the household and witnessed the incident.
According to the police search warrant, Kim was still holding two knives when answering the door.
“We saw him sitting on the bumper of the ambulance handcuffed and wearing a white shirt and shorts with blood on him,” said neighbor Ty Holland.
KIM’S RELATIVES recalled another tragedy from years before. In November of 2001, exactly one month after his wedding, Kim was involved in a car accident resulting in numerous broken bones, blindness in the left eye, a rupture in his stomach, and severe head trauma. “We all thought he was dying,” said Henry Park, Kim’s nephew. Kim slipped into a coma from which his family describes he “miraculously awoke” after 20 days.
“Ever since the accident, my uncle wasn’t the same guy. I think the head trauma plus the suffering and heartache from his hardship changed him. He lost himself,” said Henry Park.
After two years undergoing a series of surgeries, Kim was able to return to work as a sushi chef and normal physical activity. However, friends and family could see not everything had recovered. “He used to go to church, used to hang out with friends, he used to be positive. After the accident he didn’t want to see people anymore,” said Henry Park.
Following a lawsuit brought against the man responsible for his accident, Kim was awarded $700,000 plus an additional $2,000 monthly until death, and $50,000 annually for five years. Family friend Vivian Park, no relation to Henry Park, remembers how these finances were managed. “After the car crash, [Kim] couldn’t even write a check or maintain a checking account," she said. "His wife managed everything.”
In 2004, Kim and his wife moved from New York to Centreville to be closer to Hae Ja Kim’s relatives. Around this time, Kim’s family began noticing signs of suspicion, which were uncharacteristic of his usually accepting nature.
“SANG BYUNG was so trusting, it was to the point that it was irritating because he was so naïve,” said his sister, C. Park. Kim claimed that the money his wife invested was missing. “The math just didn’t add up in his head,” said Vivian Park.
After friends and relatives began having financial success, Kim became more suspicious of those involved with his personal banking account, believing they were embezzling his money. During this time Vivian Park noted: “We didn’t think he was crazy, but we could see he was unstable.”
According to Kim’s sister and brother-in-law, Kim’s wife urged him to seek aid from a psychiatrist. After a short period of time, however, these visits were discontinued.
For six months, Kim attempted to reconcile with his wife. “[Kim] bought her a Mercedes Benz to win her back,” said Vivian Park. Eventually in September of 2006, Kim filed for divorce. He then moved back to Bayside, N.Y., to live with his sister in 2007 in an attempt to “escape his problems,” say his sister and brother-in-law. Once he moved in with them, however, they said they could see the severity of his mental problems.
According to family and friends, Kim was convinced that his wife’s family would commit him to an insane asylum. Kim was displaying symptoms of paranoia, shown in a daily diary he kept since 2006 documenting the characteristics of the men he believed to be stalking him. This diary was obtained by Kim’s sister and brother-in-law during his stay at their home in New York. In it, he writes in detail the location, appearance and demeanor of each stalker with labeled diagrams and illustrations. It was written partially in English, partially in Korean, often with the word “stalker” in bold. As time passed, his family noted, his diary entries became incoherent ramblings and scribbles, often repeating one word or phrase for pages on end.
“[Kim] used to call me while I was working to tell me that he was being watched. My uncle’s a really intelligent guy. He could have a conversation about politics or economy, and then he would say something crazy like that,” said Henry Park.
EVENTUALLY, Kim was distrustful even of his close family members. “I tried to call [Kim’s] attorney and she told me that he had instructed her not to release information to anyone, including family,” said J. Park, Kim’s brother-in-law.
According to Henry Park, Kim believed that his wife’s family had hired hit men to kill him. “At the beginning of the day there was only one man out to kill him. But later, there’d be 300 or 500. By the end of the day, we told him that no one even has enough money to hire that many people,” said Henry Park.
On June 14, Kim returned to Virginia to speak with his divorce lawyer. Vivian Park arranged his hotel reservations and taxis during that time. “I was chatting with him at the Shilla Bakery [in Centreville Square] when he arrived and he was wearing sunglasses inside," she said. "When I asked him why, he pointed at people at other tables and said, ‘They recognize me.’”
On June 20, Kim called his attorney to drop the divorce suit, according to Vivian Park. “He seemed extremely happy about getting back together with his wife,” said Henry Park. That was the last contact made with his family before July 4.
“He was such a fun-loving guy before the accident,” said Henry Park. “We talked about sports and joked around a lot. He was really shy about getting married and sometimes he’d ask me, ‘Henry, do you think I should get married? What do you think about this girl?’ He acted like such a kid.”
When asked how the family reacted to the tragedy, they look back on the car accident as the beginning of a series of hardships.
Said Henry Park: “I think we knew he had a mental problem, but we didn’t want to acknowledge it. We thought once the divorce and paperwork was done, he would get better. We thought that it’d be a few more months and then it’d be over.”
Katie Fernandez contributed to this story and Henry Park translated for J. and C. Park from Korean to English.