More than a decade ago, a masked man walked up to Boumma Khammanivong outside his New Holly apartment and opened fire. His murder went unsolved, until the Seattle Police Department’s Cold Case detective took up the investigation.
Now, police and prosecutors have tied the killing to a Seattle gang member, already serving time in a state prison for other crimes.
On Wednesday, The King County Prosecuting Attorney’s Office filed second degree murder charges against San Saeyang for gunning down then 23-year-old Khammanivong on February 22nd, 2003.
Khammanivong and a friend were listening to music in their van in the parking lot of an apartment complex in the 3800 block of S. Willow Street on February 22nd, 2003 when three men wearing bandannas over their faces walked up to the van.
One of the masked men—since identified by police as Saeyang—drew a gun and opened fire on the van, striking Khammanivong in the head and chest. Saeyan and the two other masked men then fled the scene.
Police and medics arrived and transported Khammanivong to Harborview Medical Center, where he died several hours later.
In the year following the murder, detectives interviewed gang members and pored over witness statements as they worked to find Khammanivong’s killer.
Gang Unit and Homicide detectives spoke with a number of witnesses, including several gang members, who said they were with Saeyang at the time of the shooting. Those gang members all told police the same story: that Saeyang was carrying a gun the night of the murder, and had told his friends he wanted to rob someone just before the shooting.
Police also learned Saeyang—who, as a member of the Young Oriental Troop gang, went by the moniker “Savage”—had been in a fight hours before the shooting with members of a rival gang, the Tiny Raskal Gangsters (TRG). Both Khammanivong and his friend, who survived the shooting, were members of the TRGs.
Even with all this information in 2004, detectives faced difficulties moving forward with their case. As is sometimes the case with investigating crimes involving suspects with gang ties, police “had trouble getting witnesses to cooperate,” says SPD Cold Case Homicide Detective Mike Ciesynski, who took up the case in September 2013 with the help of King County prosecutors, who flagged the killing during a review of unsolved cases.
Witnesses with information about who killed Khammanivong would stop talking or relocate, Det. Ciesynski says, making it difficult for police to confirm statements or ID suspects. “Some people don’t want to talk,” he says, ‘detectives get statements from these guys, and they go into the wind.”
After reviewing the decade-old case file, Det. Ciesynski began the process of tracking down anyone who might’ve had information about the case in 2004.
“There were a couple witnesses who said Saeyang had admitted to the shooting,” Ciesynski says. “I went and talked to every one of them, everyone who was in the suspect’s car, and then the suspect.”
On May 16th, 11 years after Khammanivong was gunned down, Detective Ciesynski drove to the Monroe Correctional Center and sat down with Saeyang, and told him what witnesses had said about his role in the murder.
Saeyang confessed to killing and told Detective Ciesynski he hadn’t intended to kill anyone, and was only trying to scare his victim. After the killing, Saeyang told Ciesynski, he threw his gun out of a car window as he and his friends sped away from the murder scene.
Saeyang, already serving a burglary and robbery sentence through 2018, could now be facing another 29 to 38 years in prison.