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Denise at 22

Denise Louie was a young woman I worked with, at an office job in the mid-1970s. She wasn’t a friend, but she didn’t annoy the hell out of me, and that’s rare at work, so I liked her. She was Asian-American, and bright, I remember, and funny, I assume — I don't like people who are never funny, so she must've made me laugh.

We talked, but it was only workplace chatter. She mentioned classes at the university, so in addition to working full-time, I vaguely knew that she was also attending college. I never asked what she was studying, though. 

She once recommended a movie to me, playing only at an old theater in the International District, in Chinese. It was the first subtitled movie I'd seen, first of hundreds. It was a documentary about building a subway — strange movie indeed for a lady at work to recommend, I thought, but it was fascinating.

Denise often mentioned the International District. Just south of downtown Seattle, it's a sector that includes the city’s Chinatown, Japantown and Little Saigon. Most of Denise’s happiest events and stories took place there, or so it seemed from our quick Monday morning “How was your weekend?” conversations.

What did she really care about? I never asked, and didn't much listen. She mentioned politics a few times, but I wasn't political yet, and wasn't interested. When Elvis died, she was the person at work who broke the news, but few other memories of Denise come to mind.

She was somebody, like most people are, but I never knew who. We spent 40 hours a week within fifteen feet of each other, that's all, and then one Monday morning she wasn’t there. My co-workers and I assumed she was out sick, but at 9:30 or so, we were all called into our boss’s office, and somberly told that Denise had been killed the night before.

She’d flown to San Francisco for a sweet weekend with her boyfriend. While eating a late dinner at a restaurant in SF’s Chinatown, shots rang out, five people were killed, and Denise and her boyfriend were two of them.

September 4, 1977. Commonly called the Golden Dragon massacre, the murders were gang warfare gone awry — none of the people killed had any connection with any gang. I’m not a fan of the “true crime” genre, so I won’t say any more about that.

Denise's death flashes across my mind every time there’s another mass shooting, which is often, because this is America. We love our guns, and our right to kill people quickly whenever we're offended.

All the shooters were caught and convicted. The first to be released was Curtis Tam, in 1991 — his sentence was short, because he’d cooperated with police, and identified everyone else who’d been involved. Tom Yu, who was 17 at the time of the murders, was paroled in 2015. Three others remain behind bars, near as I can Google, but I’d be fine with letting them all out, unless they pose an actual threat here in the 21st century.

Golden Dragon

In my on-line searches, I found this photo of the restaurant where Denise died. The building's distinctive yellow criss-cross pattern was instantly familiar to me, so I’m certain that my wife and I ate there. Unknowingly, of course.

In the San Francisco Chronicle's coverage, I learned that Denise had been studying urban planning, which probably explains why she'd enjoyed that documentary about subways.

A daycare in Seattle's International District was named in her honor. At their website, I learned a tiny bit more about Denise, and what she'd cared about, and I stared at her photo for a while. I knew her, barely, and remember that smile, snuffed out at just 22 years of age, 44 years ago.



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