More than 100 people filled Canton Alley on July 23 to remember Donnie Chin on the two-year anniversary of his murder. People folded cranes to hang near his portrait, which sits overlooking the alley that once served as headquarters of the organization he founded to keep his beloved neighborhood safe—the International District Emergency Center (IDEC).
“Donnie was the heart and soul of the International District,” said Chin’s sister, Connie Chin-Magorty to the people gathered in Canton Alley. “He was a beloved son, brother, nephew, cousin, friend, mentor, surrogate father, uncle. … I pictured him as an elder in the ID telling stories to the next generation, but it wasn’t meant to be.”
Chin was fatally shot on July 23, after responding to gunfire on Eighth Avenue South and South Weller Street. His murder is still unsolved.
Among those attending the vigil were members of the Seattle Police Department, Seattle Fire Department, Seattle Deputy Chief Carmen Best, State Representative Sharon Tomiko Santos, former Seattle mayor and current mayoral candidate Mike McGinn, and members of Chin’s family. People wore glowsticks around their necks, which illuminated the alley as the daylight dimmed.
Chin-Magorty told of how her brother founded the IDEC organization in 1968 while he was still in junior high, to respond to neighborhood emergencies at a time when fire and police officers were slow to show up. Chin would listen to police radios so he could be first on the scene, and he trained himself and others in first aid and CPR.
“Donnie responded to thousands of emergencies—medical, emotional traumas, fires, shootings, assaults, car accidents, break-ins, water leaks and power outages,” Chin-Magorty said.
Chin provided his services at no cost, and with no desire for fame or recognition, Chin-Magorty said. His organization depended on donations to survive. Despite receiving numerous awards over the years, Chin was embarrassed to to accept them unless they came with a donation for the IDEC.
Dean Wong, a celebrated Seattle photographer and close friend of Chin, told of the early days of IDEC. With Canton Alley as their headquarters, they ran the organization on a shoestring budget. “In fact, it was a shoe with no strings,” said Wong. In addition to public safety work volunteers would gather canned food to give to the needy, and look after elders.
“His dedication to the neighborhood was beyond determined,” said Wong. “It was fierce, it was loyal, it was heart-of-gold solid, risking his own safety for the protection of others.”
While most people had day jobs and families, Chin was usually out in the streets, ready to help whoever needed it. “Some described Donnie as Batman,” Wong said. “Batman was fictitious.”
Dicky Mar, board president of the IDEC organization Chin founded, reminded people that Chin’s murder remains unsolved.
“Donnie Chin loved this community,” Mar said. “He dedicated his life to protect and preserve the neighborhood. In the end, Donnie Chin gave his life to the community he loved.”
Mar remembered Chin’s passion for Chinese American history, and how he collected artifacts throughout the neighborhood.
Melissa Wong, one of many of “Donnie’s kids”—young people who were mentored and looked after by Chin—shared anecdotes about Chin’s affection and self-reliant outlook on life, and the pain of losing him as she was applying to medical school.
Others spoke of Chin’s thoughtful acts of kindness—from gathering $300 from the community to pay for the funeral of a man’s young son, to saving Hawaiian shirt themed post-it notes for someone because they were from Hawai‘i.
Sonny Nguyen, CID neighborhood Public Safety Coordinator, spoke about how meeting Chin helped inspire them to get involved in public safety work with the CID community.
“There’s so many people here who would not be in the same space at the same time if it wasn’t for Donnie. And I think that’s something beautiful,” Nguyen said.
Near the end of the vigil, Jamie Lee, IDEA Space manager at the Seattle Chinatown International District Preservation and Development Association (SCIDpda), spoke of the impact Chin had on her, despite them only knowing each other for a little more than a year. “He’s changed my life. And the people that I’ve met through him, through his tragedy, and all of you, have changed my life,” she said.
CID resident Bill Lee became a member of IDEC this year, but knew Chin for 30 years. “To me he was the shepherd of the community. He tried to protect it, he tried to help the people out no matter who it was,” Lee said. “He is a hero that we will not be able to replace.”
Slideshow photos by Chetanya Robinson: