Donnie Chin, 59, was fatally shot in the Chinatown/International District two years ago, but his story still changes people’s lives.
Chin founded the International District Emergency Center, an alternative safety service that was created to help International District residents more quickly than conventional services, as they were slow to respond to 911 calls.
Chin’s best friend Dean Wong said people would compare Chin to Batman.
“Donnie was flesh and blood, a real hero,” Wong said.
It was not unusual for Chin to check out reports of disturbances himself. In the early morning of July 23, 2015, Chin was caught in crossfire near near Eighth Avenue and South Weller Street. According to the Seattle Police Department, it is believed Chin was not the target.
At the vigil held late on Sunday evening in Canton Alley in Chinatown, Wong mentioned that no one is for certain whether Chin was a target. However, it is certain that the killer is still free.
“I don’t cry as much as I used to but it hasn’t stopped,” Wong said. “They say time heals. I’m still waiting.”
Chin’s family, Seattle community members, the Seattle Fire Department, the Seattle Police Department, and mayoral candidate Mike McGinn joined others who gathered in Canton Alley Sunday evening.
Chin, who grew up in the Chinatown/International District, noticed that police and emergency responses to his neighborhood were slower than in other neighborhoods and he decided to do something about it. The year was 1968 and he was in junior high school.
The IDEC started out as Asians for Unity Emergency Squad collecting food for the elderly and patrolling the streets of the Chinatown/International District. He provided these services free of charge.
“He did the work of 20,” IDEC volunteer Bill Lee said. “That’s something that we have to keep up on.”
Chin had responded to thousands of emergencies, and the IDEC depended on donations to survive, according to his sister Connie Chin-Magorty.
Chin and Wong started buying medical equipment and researching emergency aid programs and services, and in time other joined members, responded to medical, emotional, and personal trauma usually before the ambulance or police arrived at the scene.
“He ran on a shoestring budget, with a shoe with no strings,” Wong said.
Chin-Magorty said her brother got to know the elders who had few relatives in the area, and became a “surrogate father” for children growing in the neighborhood.
“Donnie was the heart and soul of international District,” Chin-Magorty said.
IDEC board member Dicky Mar observed that Chin was recognized with multiple awards after his death.
“Other than this community, nobody really knew who he was,” Mar said. “Because he refused to be recognized.”
Event organizer Sonny Nguyen also mentioned that Chin would hate the idea of the vigil and that he disliked garnering a lot of attention.
“He hated attention so much he would yell at us to get out of his alley,” Nguyen said with a smile.
Rayann Onzuka, an employee at the Wing Luke Museum that is next to Canton Alley, teared up as she recalled the day she found out Chin’s death.
“I usually turn right on 8th Avenue, but I couldn’t because it was blocked,” Onzuka said. “I was expecting that he would tell me what happened later that night.”
Onzuka added that Chin would always tell her that the museum needed to update its exhibition on facing Canton Alley, filling it with something great. The exhibit now features Chin’s biography in photos.
“Well, now it is covered in some really great stuff,” she said.
Chin would always hold barbecues open to the community and would convince people to eat well. He has left a mark on International District for his selfless actions, and the community will continue to remember him through annual barbecues in his name.
The barbecue this year will be held on Thursday, July 27 at 6 p.m. at the Donnie Chin International Children’s Park in Chinatown.