Family of murdered South Philly fruit vendor waits for answers

 (Courtesy of NBC10)

(Courtesy of NBC10)

At around 5 a.m. on April 18, 2013, Don Ly was loading a cart in front of his home for the daily drive out to University City, where he operated the family’s fruit stand not far from the Hospital of the University of Pennsylvania.

There, on the 400 block of Vollmer St. in South Philadelphia, the 68-year-old was approached by an unknown man who stabbed him multiple times.

The crime

At around 5 a.m. on April 18, 2013, Don Ly was loading a cart in front of his home for the daily drive out to University City, where he operated the family’s fruit stand not far from the Hospital of the University of Pennsylvania.

There, on the 400 block of Vollmer St. in South Philadelphia, the 68-year-old was approached by an unknown man who stabbed him multiple times.

After trying to seek help from his loved ones inside by knocking on the windows, Ly died.

Investigators don’t think it was a robbery turned homicide. After all, his wallet (and the $200 in cash inside it) wasn’t taken.

Today, more than two years later, police and loved ones still in mourning still don’t know why Ly was targeted. It’s been a perptual waiting game steeped in tragedy.

The suspect description

While establishing a motive has proven difficult, the killer’s image was captured on surveillance video, which police released publicly in an attempt to find answers.

From those images, investigators derived that the killer is a thin light-skinned black or Spanish male, roughly 5-feet 8-inches tall, with a goatee. He was wearing dark-colored pants, a dark jacket, a black-knit hat and black Chuck Taylor Converse sneakers.

He was last seen walking toward the 2700 block of S. Randolph St.

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(Courtesy of the Philadelphia Police Department)

The impact

Don Ly’s life was one of struggle and achieving the American dream.

He was a Buddhist monk, one-time police officer and Vietnamese immigrant who survived a war by escaping through a jungle and spending more than a year in a refugee camp in Thailand. The full story — and there’s much more to his story — can be read on the “Far To Freedom: Don Ly True Story” site established by his family after his death.

His struggles paid off when he brought his family to the United States and settled in a South Philadelphia rowhome in 1990. From there, he established the family business, one that continues to this day despite his family’s state of unsettled mourning.

Ly’s daughter Nary and son Hoanh, were inside the house that tragic day. They hope that this story will prompt someone who knows anything about the killing to share information with authorities.

They know he’s gone, but their mother “is still waiting for him to come home, even though we realize that’s not going to happen. He was a great man,” Nary said. “We got no last hug. No last kiss. I never got to say ‘I love you daddy’ one last time.

“That’s what we’re hoping for, that someone will come forward to break this case,” said Hoanh, noting that the $25,000 reward might help make that a reality. “Every day, we just hope that someone comes forward. Somebody has to know this person, has to know what happened. We are living, every day, not knowing what’s going on.

Nary said each day is painful for her family. They live each day with “a hole in our hearts,” she said. What makes it all worse is that they just have no clue what led up to the fatal attack on an otherwise “peaceful” block.

“I just want justice. Hopefully, someone has a change of heart,” she said. “I know the detectives are working on the case, but it’s just silence with no new information. No lead. No nothing. My mother says she just wants to see justice before she dies.

“Last week, we posted flyers again, but nobody said anything. We’ve been patient. Every day, I think of my dad and wake up thinking this could be the day we hear something about the case. My dad always had love in his heart.”

About two months after Ly was killed in front of their home, the family got back into the practice of operating the food stand. They don’t really know if that would have been his wish for them. They never asked him, figuring he would be around for another decade or two.

Hoanh still has flashbacks to the images of holding his dying father in his arms. It’s not the type of thing people can easily shake.

Caring customers continue to reach out with sympathy, but Ly’s wife still struggles with it everyday, her children said.

“Every day we get up and no answers. It doesn’t get easier,” Nary said. “My family doesn’t have justice. It’s just hard to go forward. We pray everyday. God knows. God hears.”

Their biggest fear, besides the perpetrator striking again, is that the killer’s family facilitiated his escape, and that they may never know what happened that day. Hope and prayer overrides that in their hearts and minds, though.

“My dad did not deserve this,” said Hoanh sitting on the couch to where his father used to retire each day after working at the fruit stand. “He wasn’t the kind of person who went out making trouble.

“We still have to hold onto the fact that there’s a piece of hope out there somewhere. We just don’t know what to do. We don’t want the case to be silent even though it’s classified as a cold case but we don’t want it to be cold. We have to trust the system, believe in the system. The system will bring us justice. We just don’t know when. We’ve run out of options of what we can do. We feel powerless.”

If you have any information about the case, contact the Philadelphia Police homicide unit at (215) 215-686-3334 or at 215-546-TIPS. 

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