Stephen Kim

Stephen Kim

Stephen Kim


Stephen Pausuan Kim
41 YOA
Near 3523 University Ave.
Drake neighborhood
Des Moines, Iowa
Polk County
Investigating Agency: Des Moines Police Department
April 21, 2017


Case Summary

Stephen Kim, a 41-year-old Burmese-American immigrant, was fatally shot in front of his three young children during an attempted robbery near 3523 University Ave. in Des Moines’ Drake neighborhood on Friday, April 21, 2017, shortly before 10:30 p.m.

Kim had parked his car in the University Terrace Apartments parking lot while waiting for his wife, Ester Kim, who was carpooling to meet him after work. The couple’s three sons, all under age 9, sat in the vehicle’s back seat when four men approached and attempted to rob Kim.

After the four men fled, one of Kim’s sons went to a neighboring residence, awakening the man who lived there.

Des Moines police officers arrived on scene and Kim was transported to a nearby hospital, where he died from his injuries.

Police worked throughout the night interviewing witnesses, and described the killing as an execution.

It marked the eleventh murder in Des Moines for 2017, and no one has been arrested in the unsolved homicide.

‘Someone killed my dad’

Neighbors and residents of the University Terrace Apartments described the scene as very chaotic.

“I was sleeping, this kid is coming. He knocked on my door. I said, ‘What happened?’ He said, ‘Someone killed my dad’,” said Mohammed Mahmud, a neighbor.

“I call 911 around 10:20, after that, police come and that kid stayed in my home,” Mahmud said.

Other neighbors described the apartments as a normally peaceful complex.

“They roped it off, there were cops everywhere, ambulances, fire trucks, you couldn’t get in and out of the parking lot,” said Todd Hutchison, another neighbor.

Detectives worked the crime scene late into the night, questioning neighbors about how the father of three was killed.

“They probably planned on robbing him,” said Des Moines Police Sgt. Paul Parizek. “For whatever reason, they didn’t plan on him resisting and protecting his family, and one of them decided to shoot him.”

So far, police have determined at least four people were part of the attack.

Courtesy photo The Des Moines Register
Ester Kim with the couple’s three young sons.

“We know that there was only one person who pulled the trigger of that gun,” said Parizek. “The other three have a very small window of opportunity to do the right thing, make themselves known to us, come forward and tell us what happened while they’re still witnesses before they become suspects.”

“I just learned now that the kids were in the car, and that’s really traumatizing. I’d never seen anything like that around here,” said Hutchison.

Police are still hoping someone in the multiple building complex has answers. They reached out to the public for help while searching through surveillance video from nearby businesses for clues about what happened.

“This one’s a tough one for us, but like I said, you really want to fire us up, you do something to someone in front of their kids and bring that kind of trauma on those poor children, and we’re not going to rest until we find them,” Parizek said.

Hard-working couple gained US citizenship to escape persecution; both worked two jobs

From Des Moines Register stories published, April 22, 23, and 25, 2017

The Ethnic Minorities of Burma Advocacy and Resource Center (EMBARC) — along with Kim’s former employers — is working to help his family and the Burmese community heal, said Henny Ohr, the refugee-led advocacy group’s executive director, in a Des Moines Register story published April 23, 2017.

“I think it’s unfathomable for the refugee community from Burma,” Ohr said, “to come to any understanding of something this senseless.”

Ohr said Kim came to America as a refugee from Burma in 2009.

He was part of the Zomi ethnic community in the Chin State, in western Myanmar, which was formerly Burma. The Zomi are an ethnic minority numbering in the millions that can be found in India, Bangladesh and Myanmar. They are predominantly Christian in a predominantly Theravada Buddhist region of the world and share a language distinct from the predominantly spoken Burmese dialects in Myanmar.

Courtesy photo Des Moines Register
Stephen and Ester Kim

After briefly living in Malaysia, Kim and his wife, who is also part of the Zomi community, came to America and gained citizenship to escape the persecution they faced as a result of their faith and ethnic identity.

Moreover, Kim came to chase the American dream.

Ohr said Kim’s death was devastating to Des Moines’ Burmese community.

“It brings shock and fear to a community that came here for safety and our future,” Ohr said.

Kim was a hard-working father who worked two jobs — one of which was as bartender and host at Cool Basil, a Thai and Japanese restaurant in Clive where Kim’s wife was also employed as a sushi chef, the Register reported April 22, 2017.

Stephen also worked at Windsor Windows in West Des Moines, and Ester had recently started a second job as a sushi chef at Banana Leaf restaurant in West Des Moines.

Alex Phrasany, who was both Kim and his wife’s manager, remembers Kim as a quiet, friendly and dedicated worker.

“He always had a smile on his face,” Phrasany remembers. “He was a good man.”

Phrasany says Kim’s wife was on her way home from her second job, at Banana Leaf, an Asian bistro in West Des Moines operated by the same owners as Cool Basil, when the shooting happened.

“He was already at the hospital by the time she got there,” he said.

Phrasany said he doesn’t believe the incident was a hate crime, and that Kim was just in the wrong place at the wrong time.

Sgt. Parizek also said there’s no evidence the incident was a hate crime.

Ohr said that, before his death, Kim was working to bring his mother to America from Myanmar. He hadn’t seen her in over 15 years and he wanted her to meet her grandchildren, who were born in America.

As EMBARC and the Burmese community worked to provide resources and help to the family, they also felt disheartened by the violence.

Courtesy photo
After briefly living in Malaysia, Stephen Kim and his wife, Ester, came to America and gained citizenship to escape the persecution they faced as a result of their faith and ethnic identity. Stephen and Ester each worked two jobs while trying to live the American dream with their sons, all of whom were born in the US.

“How to process something like this when it totally undermines your sense of safety being this country — safety from that persecution,” Ohr said, “when you’re looking for success.”

Iowans and others across the globe rushed to help Kim’s wife, Ester, donating $300,000 to help her and her boys move from an apartment into the first home the family has owned.

Ester Kim will be putting the majority of additional Go Fund Me donations into a trust fund for her children’s education and future and raise her three sons as she moves forward in life without Stephen.

Visit the Steven Kim’s Family GoFundMe page at:

About Stephen Kim (from obituary)

Stephen Kim, 41, passed away on April 21, 2017. He was born on September 2, 1975 in Tonzang, Chin State, Myanmar, the second son of Pa Joseph Tuan Khan Suan and Nu Maria Zuan Khaw Niiang.

Stephen was a production worker at Windsor Windows and Doors in West Des Moines and part time host & bartender at Cool Basil Restaurant in Clive.

Stephen loved to help others in the community, fishing, spending time together with his family at the park, and taking special prayer time at the Church. Stephen was a devoted husband and loving father.

Steven Kim's gravestoneCourtesy photo Katie Lou,
Steven Kim is buried at Glendale Cemetery in Des Moines.

Stephen is survived by his wife, Ester; his three boys, Joseph (age 8), David (age 6), and Martin (age 4); mother, Nu Maria Zuan Khaw Niiang of Myanmar; brother-in-law, Pa En Mung of Myanmar; sister & brother-in-law, Nu Elizabeth Dim & Pa Joseph Zam of Myanmar; brothers & sister-in-laws, Pa Methodius Mang & Nu Mang of Malaysia, Pa AugustineSuan & Nu Margaret Mary and Pa Dominic & Nu Rita of Des Moines; and several nieces and nephews.

He was preceded in death by his father, Pa Joseph Tuan Khan Suan (died in 1997); and his oldest sister, Nu Veronica Niang En Lun (died in 11/2016).

Visitation was held at 9 a.m. Saturday, May 6, 2017, followed by Mass of Christian Burial at 10 a.m. at St. Pius X Catholic Church in Urbandale. Burial followed the service at Glendale Cemetery in Des Moines. Following the burial, Cool Basil Restaurant employees led a candlelight vigil back at the church.

Information Needed

Anyone with information about Stephen Kim’s unsolved murder is asked to call the Des Moines Police Department at 515-283-4811, or Crime Stoppers of Central Iowa at 515-223-1400. A tip may also be submitted online at



One Response to Stephen Kim

  1. Patrick Kerrigan says:

    The offenders will not talk, be considered a snitch. We hear that quite often, when it comes to gang shootings here in Chicago. It makes me wonder if the bad guys were from this neck of the woods. Also, even if they did not pull the trigger, they can be charged with his murder. These individuals have no respect for life.

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