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Beloved Washington store owner gunned down years after escaping North Korea for a better life

Posted at 1:58 PM, May 01, 2019

PUYALLUP, Wash. - Beloved Puyallup store owner Soon Ja Nam, who was gunned down during an armed robbery Saturday night, escaped from North Korea more than 50 years ago in search of a better life.

Her son, Tohyon Nam, told KCPQ she and her husband made it to South Korea, where Soon Ja Nam became a college professor. Still, she wanted more for her family.

"Through that hardship of occupation, hardship of war, blowing up bombs here, bombs there, she survived all that," Tohyon Nam said. "She brought us here."

Here in Puyallup, over the decades the Nam family made the Handy Corner Store a neighborhood hub, riding on the smiles and kindness of Soon Ja Nam.

"Everyone around here loved her," customer Nancy Prime said. "It's a small area. We all knew her. We all loved her."

The 79-year-old matriarch was shot and killed just after 5 p.m. Saturday when two men robbed her at the Handy Corner Store.

Witnesses told investigators two men entered the store, pulled out handguns and threatened Nam, but even after she gave them the money one of them followed her toward the store office and shot her in the back.

Pierce County Sheriff's Detectives have found the getaway car used by the suspects. They are only saying it was found outside Pierce County thanks to tips.

The two suspects are described as dark-complected black males in their 20s, approximately 6 feet tall and 200 lbs., wearing beanie caps and white hospital-style surgical masks. The shooter was seen wearing a gray hoodie, black sweatpants, and gray tennis shoes. The driver had a scruffy beard and was seen wearing a blue hoodie, gray sweatpants, and white shoes.

Soon Ja Nam's family reopened the store just hours after she was murdered, thanks in large part to the immediate outpouring of support from the neighborhood and the financial need to continue the work Soon Ja Nam loved.

"These people here saved us," Tohyon Nam said.

Tohyon Nam and his father, Joseph Nam, are overwhelmed by the support from the Pierce County and Puyallup communities. Not just the flowers, but cards, letters and more that continue to pour in since she was gunned down Saturday night.

Even if detectives catch her killers, Joseph Nam said justice won't bring him any closure.

"It doesn't matter to us they get caught or not, it doesn't bring my wife's life back," he said.