Crime Cultivation Law Local State

Seven bodies, nothing stolen: Were killings at Riverside marijuana grow ‘a message’?

Aerial view of the property in Aguanga where seven people were shot to death over Labor Day weekend at an illegal marijuana grow.  (Allen J. Schaben / Los Angeles Times)

The boy knew how his mother made a living. He also knew the danger inherent in it.

As recently as two months ago, he had stayed at a property in Aguanga, a small community in rural Riverside County, where his mother, helped by recent immigrants from Laos, grew marijuana.

By day, he watered the plants and lugged buckets full of soil and supplements that helped them grow; by night, he slept on a small cot in a trailer alongside his mother, her boyfriend and her friend.

Though he did not think his mother growing marijuana made her a bad person, the 16-year-old recalled an unease, the sense that violence could at any moment intrude on that dusty, far-flung property.

“It’s drugs,” he said. “And anything can happen when you’re dealing drugs.”

Half an hour after midnight on Sept. 7, Riverside sheriff’s deputies were called to the property, where they found a woman badly shot and in the last hours of her life. She would die at a local hospital. Elsewhere on the site, the deputies found the bodies of six people, all of them shot to death. The boy’s mother, Phone Chankhamany, was among the dead.

One month later, Riverside County’s worst mass killing in recent memory remains cloaked in mystery. The authorities have not said if they’ve turned up a motive or narrowed in on any suspects. The Riverside Sheriff’s Department has declined requests for interviews and placed security holds on the coroner’s reports, blocking their disclosure.

The victims — who, according to Chankhamany’s son, were mostly new immigrants from Laos — have little if any paper trail. No property records, court cases or other public documents that might offer insight into their lives or leads to relatives who could.

To Read The Rest Of This Article By Matthew Ormseth and Stephanie Lai on Los Angeles Times
Published: October 28, 2020
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