Volunteer fatally stabbed at church

| September 11, 2010

An Amarillo church volunteer painting Sunday school classrooms to prepare them for weekend worship was stabbed to death Friday by another parishioner inside the church, police said.

Potter-Randall Special Crimes Lt. Gary Trupe said Dinh Van Pham, 58, of north Amarillo was inside Our Lady of Vietnam Catholic Church, 2001 N. Grand St., about 1:30 p.m. when 28-year-old church member Van Pham Con allegedly stabbed him multiple times with a knife.

Trupe said investigators were still trying to determine why Con would allegedly attack Pham. Con was charged with murder and taken to the Potter County jail Friday evening.

"We don't know of any controversy between (them)," he said.

An autopsy on Pham's body was ordered for Monday, Trupe said.

Homicide investigators spent Friday afternoon at an Amarillo hospital questioning Con, who they said suffered a leg injury.

Meanwhile, the church, Pham's family and the city's Vietnamese community struggled to come to grips with the news that Pham was slain inside the building he took such pride in.

Deacon Floyd Ashley of the Amarillo Diocese stood near the crime scene tape, watching police investigators reconstruct the scene. He offered his condolences to everyone involved. About 150 families attend church there.

"This is a very tight-knit community," he said. "The members of this parish are constantly involved in volunteer work around this parish."

Sobs briefly filled the air when police gently told the victim's wife and son he was dead.

"Let me go in!" Pham's son shouted.

"Please," the young man pleaded when police stopped him from running into the building where his father's body lay.

The two sat crying on the curb of the church's parking lot just inside the crime scene tape a short distance from the building's entrance. Their priest knelt next to them, speaking softly.

"Everybody in the church knew him," said Anthony Dang, a vice president of the church's board. "We are very close. (He) was really nice. He (was) a family man. We don't know what is going on."

Dang said Pham took pride in his work and had nearly repainted all the classrooms for free when he was killed.

Dang said he also knew Con and said he is nice. The two men are not related, people who knew them said.

Trupe said Con visited the church's priest at his home, which is on church property, just minutes before the slaying.

He said the conversation was "just a normal conversation between a priest and parishioner," and that the priest told the man of some volunteer opportunities before the man left.

A short time later, police got a 9-1-1 call that Pham had been stabbed.

"He's (the priest) pretty shook up," Trupe said. "I'm sure he didn't think about anyone being killed in his church."

When officers arrived, they were approached by Con, who was leaving through the church's south door with a leg injury, Trupe said.

He fell to the ground when officers approached, police said.

Trupe said they recovered the knife that was believed to have been used to kill Pham inside the building.

He said the church was unlocked, but police don't believe anyone other than Con and Pham were inside when the homicide occurred.

"The other man (Con) didn't really have a reason to be there," Trupe said.

Police believe Pham was stabbed in one of the rooms he was painting, but his body was found in the adjoining room, Trupe said.

"We do know that where it (the slaying) occurred is not where he was (found)," he said, noting investigators were still trying to determine how Pham's body ended up in a different location.

He said police had to bring in a translator because Con speaks Vietnamese, which made questioning him challenging.

"Our thoughts and prayers are with the victim, the suspect and their families," said Chris Albracht, the director of communications for the Amarillo Diocese.



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