This family is no stranger to loss.
It began decades ago, as mother and father were forced to flee the jungle of Burma for crowded refugee camps in Thailand. Later, when the couple’s oldest sons were still small, the family’s refuge burned to the ground.
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A Missing Peace
Reporter Julia Lyon traveled to Thailand to trace the journeys of Hser Ner Moo and Esar Met from the Mae La refugee camp to Salt Lake City. Her series, reported in collaboration with the International Reporting Project, also explored the challenges their families and other refugees face in America. See the series at http://extras.sltrib.com/thailand.
They would eventually leave everything behind and cross oceans to chase the promise of a better life Utah.
But none of this could prepare them for the greatest loss of their lives — Hser Ner Moo, the only daughter, the only sister, the only niece these relatives ever had.
"She was my one, my only one," her father, Cartoon Wah, said through an interpreter, translating from his native tongue of Karen. "I have lost many things in my life, but this was the biggest loss of my life. ... Now I have to carry on living with this broken heart and support my family."
Wah, a slight man from the country now known as Myanmar, took the witness stand Wednesday morning to testify in the case against the man accused of killing his child.
It was the second day of testimony in a three-week trial prosecutors hope will convince a jury that Esar Met is the man responsible for the little girl’s death on March 31, 2008.
Esar Met, also a Burmese refugee, is charged in 3rd District Court with first-degree felony counts of child kidnapping and aggravated murder for the slaying of Hser Ner Moo, 7. If convicted, he could spend the rest of his life behind bars.
Wah began to cry as he recalled the bright and precocious girl he and his wife, Pearlly Wa, brought with them from a refugee camp in Thailand to the South Parc apartments in South Salt Lake.
Hser Ner Moo was born in "during the rainy season," the murdered girl’s father recalled. She loved to learn and to teach. Her favorite color was pink. She was a happy child who played games and jumped rope and rode around on the back of her father’s bicycle.
Her older brothers recalled the home they shared — full of noise, full of life.
That, they said, was Hser Ner Moo.
"She was small but she was loud," testified her brother Kyi Kyi Po. "She brought everyone happiness."
The home grew silent in the days after her death.
A family muted by grief, their home has not been filled with the noise or joy they once knew in nearly six years.
"This is the biggest loss of my life," Hser Ner Moo’s mother, said between prolonged sobs. "If you gave me the whole world of happiness to exchange for this little girl, I would say no. Nothing can pay me back because I only had one. Whenever I see little girls run around, it breaks my heart."
Prosecutors allege that Met abducted the child on March 31, 2008, brought her down to his basement apartment — just doors away from the girl’s own home — and sexually and physically assaulted her before killing her.
Defense attorneys have said that Met and the child were friends and playmates, that he cared for her and other children in the apartment complex.
No one saw Met abduct or slay the girl, defense attorneys said in opening statements Tuesday, adding the evidence the prosecution does have — DNA collected from Met’s denim jacket and from under the child’s fingernails — were remnants of games the two had played days before.
As the father testified Wednesday morning, 11 jurors watched in silence. One woman wiped tears from her eyes as the man told the court of his heartache.
"The night [she disappeared] my wife was crying," Wah said. "It had been too long, so we assumed, we thought maybe our daughter is already dead."Next Page >
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