2010-09-29 / Front Page

Baby is bright light in tragedy

Chen family continues to struggle, accepts donation from law firm
BY CLARE MARIE CELANO Staff Writer

AFreehold Borough family torn apart by tragedy is being held together by the strength of one young girl and a 7-pound pink bundle of life named Tammy.

Tammy Chen Tammy Chen The Chen family continues to grieve the loss of Yao Chen, 28, and his sister Yun Juan Chen, 39, after they were murdered on June 16 in their South Street, Freehold Borough, home. Two men from New York were arrested in the borough and charged with murder shortly after the crime occurred.

While nothing can take away the pain and loss from the members of the family who were left behind, a light has been sent to the family that visibly eases the ache of their loss as they try to focus on the future for baby Tammy Chen, who will face life without ever knowing her father.

Tammy Chen is the newborn child of Yao Chen, and his wife, Ya Li, who was brought to the United States from China on July 13. Ya Li gave birth to Tammy on Aug. 31 at Monmouth Medical Center in Long Branch.

As the family tries to cope with the tragedy, the community is attempting to provide whatever assistance it can.

Shortly after the murders occurred, the Freehold Borough PBA Local 159, in conjunction with the Charitable Fund of the legal firm of Lomurro, Davison, Eastman and Munoz, of Freehold Township, set up a plan to solicit donations to help the family meet its mounting bills and daily needs.

The family has not returned to live in the Freehold Borough house where their loved ones were killed. The family is now residing in Freehold Township.

According to Freehold Borough police Lt. Mark Wodell, about a week or so after the events of June 16, the members of the department decided they wanted to do something for the Chen family.

“Our guys were personally affected by this tragedy in the days that followed. The family members were with us in headquarters a great deal as we tried to advise them of the events that would follow in the weeks and months ahead. We wanted to try to raise funds to help the family, especially Ya Li, who was in China at the time and pregnant with Tammy,” Wodell said.

Yun Juan Chen, 39, is survived by her daughter, Danyu Chen, a Rutgers University student and the person who has taken on the responsibility of being the nucleus of the family. That was the role her mother carried before her death.

“We reached out to the attorneys at Lomurro, Davison, Eastman and Munoz through a friend of mine,” Wodell said. “They put us together with Christina Hardman O’Neal, who assisted us with this plan. They helped us keep track of the donations through the firm’s Charitable Fund.”

On Sept. 24, attorney Donald M. Lomurro and Hardman-O’Neal came to Freehold Borough police headquarters and presented the Chen family with a check from the fund in the amount of $5,500.

“This foundation was set up to allow the community to help their neighbors in need,” Lomurro said.

“The check is a conglomerate of funds, large and small, from many individuals,” Hardman-O’Neal added.

Lomurro said the firm’s Charitable Fund will support an ongoing collection for the family. Donations in any amount may be sent to The Charitable Fund of Lomurro, Davison, Eastman and Munoz, 100 Willowbrook Road, Suite 100, Freehold, 07728.

Danyu, Ya Li and Tammy, as well as Muchu Chen, the mother of the two family members who were killed, accepted the donation at police headquarters.

The mood was somber, with Ya Li and Muchu quietly tearful through much of the visit. Yet, occasionally, the mood brightened as the family members doted on 24-day-old baby Tammy, dressed in a bright pink outfit and laying in her mother’s arms very quietly.

Danyu said the family members think about their loved ones constantly. She said Ya Li is in the United States on a six-month visa, but would like to remain permanently.

“She needs to be with us; she will not be able to take care of the baby and support her alone in China,” Danyu said.

“My grandmother is constantly crying and getting hurt, burning herself or cutting herself because she cannot stop thinking of them,” she said, referring to Muchu’s murdered adult children. “And my aunt (Ya Li) now suffers from post-partum depression but she will not let me take her to a counselor.”

She said her father, Jin Chen, is having a difficult time dealing with the death of his wife and remains angry. She said she is hoping the men who have been accused of the murders “will be punished by going to prison for the rest of their lives.”

“My grandfather has gone back to China to be in the big house where we all once lived, but he is alone and sick and we worry about him all the time,” she said.

The Chen family owns the Golden Taste restaurant on Jackson Street in the borough and must keep the business open because it is their only source of income.

Danyu said she started the semester at Rutgers, where she is a senior, but left after two weeks because she could not concen- trate and was crying all the time.

Wodell and Lomurro encouraged her to return to school.

“Quitting is not an option,” Lomurro said. “There are programs to help you at the school.”

“You have to finish for your mother,” Wodell added quietly.

Right now, Danyu is busy helping her dad and her brother, Zefeng, who recently graduated from Colts Neck High School, run the restaurant.

She is also the thread that helps keep the family together, which is a big responsibility for a young person. She said she will finish school, although she is not certain how she will do that.

Danyu said many restaurant customers have also come to the family’s aid, bringing in small donations on their own.

“They are very close to us and they want to help us,” she said.

According to Danyu, baby Tammy is the reason the family now rises every morning. Seeing Tammy is the first thing each family member does upon arriving home in the evening.

“She makes my father smile,” Danyu said. “He likes to touch her nose and watch her smile. And my brother, too. We all love to be with her. She is the reason we have to stay together,”

Danyu said the family sees Tammy as the future, a good future. She said Ya Li and Muchu are at home all day tending to Tammy.

“We have to be strong for her and take care of her and keep her healthy. Everything we do, we do for her,” the young woman said.

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