Wife, children of Chinese restaurant owner shot to death say family was targeted

Shirley Chan lay in her bed Tuesday, clutching her husband's black jacket and holding her 14-year-old daughter's hand.

She doesn't know how she is going to raise her two children alone after someone shot her husband outside their south Durham home.

"My family is broken," Chan said.

Hong Zheng, 42, died Sunday night in his Hope Valley Farms North driveway just before 11:15 p.m. Zheng owned the China Wok restaurant on South Roxboro Road near the Kroger and off Martin Luther King Jr. Parkway.

The shooting, the family said, was an attempted robbery that unfolded as Shirley Chan and Hong Zheng returned home from work.

It was the fifth time that someone had tried to rob or break into their home since 2015. The family believes they are among a group of Asians who are being targeted because they own restaurants and people think they have money, they said.

The family thinks the same people have been targeting them over that time.

“Because they know us so well. To the point [they] know where to park," said Jade Zheng, 14. "They know where to leave. They know what my parents do."

Sunday night

It was pouring rain on Sunday night when Chan and Zheng pulled into their driveway. Their two children, Jade and Eastern, 16, were watching in the house for them to return, a routine they had established after four previous robberies or break-ins, a family friend said.

Chan got out of car first as her husband pulled the car farther up the driveway.

Jade’s brother, Eastern, said he saw two cars, parked and turned off, with nine or more people. When Chan got out of the car, Jade saw three or four people start approaching her mother.

Eastern grabbed a gun and a magazine of ammunition from inside the house and gave it to his mother.

“They shot at my mom at least three times,” Jade said. “My mom tried to assemble the gun.”

The gun jammed, and the attackers were running up to the house, Chan said. She was trying to protect her son and wasn’t thinking about her husband who was still parking the car.

“They ran away, so my mom ran back and forth trying to get my brother safe,” Jade said. “And she called my Dad, and he didn’t respond back.”

Chan went to the car and saw a bullet hole in the window; her husband lay in his seat unresponsive.

He had been shot twice in the face and once his neck, Jade said.

The family doesn't think the police have been responsive enough.

“I feel like they tried more once someone has been killed, that’s when they start caring," Jade said. "At the same time, they are not doing anything. Like, I haven’t hear back from them. I don’t think they are going to care anymore. It’s like they are not going to help my Dad. They are going to let [him] die and not get justice.”

A spokesman for the Durham Police Department said the department could not immediately respond to questions about the case.

Hong Zheng was fatally shot while in his driveway of his home in Hope Valley North neighborhood on Sunday, April 15, 2018. Virginia Bridges

The robberies

The family has lived in their Hope Valley Farms North neighborhood about 15 years.

The first time someone tried to break in was the day before Thanksgiving in 2015, they said. The family wasn’t home.

“Everything that was valuable” was taken, said Chan, 43, including her purses, jewelry and televisions. The family came home to open cabinets and drawers and their belongings strewn about..

The police came, the family said, did an investigation and tried to get some fingerprints. “I think they got a few and they didn’t match, and they left and they just gave up,” Jade said.

The family installed a security system.

In January 2016, someone broke in again. This time Jade and her brother were sleeping in their rooms.

Chan was coming home with another person, and three men were waiting outside by a bush.

“They put the gun to my head,” Chan said. “Asked me to open the door.”

They also punched her in the face.

One man held Chan at gunpoint.

A second robber pushed the person with Chan into Jade’s room. He shook her leg to wake her and held the two at gunpoint.

“They told me to not look at them,” Chan said. “They searched my room, too. They searched in my purse. They took my phone.”

The third person searched other rooms. The men found a camera, and they rushed away after five to 10 minutes in the home.

No one was charged, the family said.

In June 2016, someone broke a window, but the alarm went off and they left.

“Then the police came, and did a report number and that was it,” Jade said.

Last summer someone kicked open their front door, and the alarm went off. No one was home.

Afterward the family came up with a system that included the children watching and waiting when their parents came home at night, a family friend said.

The Dad

Jade said her dad was the most amazing person.

He would get up in the middle of the night to help friends who owned other restaurants in the Triangle.

“Someone’s restaurant would be in Raleigh,” she said. “He would grab his tools from home and go there to help fix whatever machine was broken.”

He would drive his two kids to school every day, taking Eastern at 6 a.m. for driver’s education, and then Jade at 8 a.m.

“He made my birthday parties special,” Jade said.

Zheng would spend all a day cooking recipes that he made up.

“He went away without even telling me how to cook them,” Jade said. “I don’t think anyone could compare to him.”

For Jade, car rides with her Dad was her favorite. They would talk. She would jam out to songs on the radio. He would look at her and laugh.

They talked about college and how he wanted her to have a career that would be easier than owning a Chinese restaurant.

“He supported me through everything,” she said.

Virginia Bridges: 919-829-8924, @virginiabridges