‘More than a pillar of the community’: Friends celebrate Jin Shin at candlelight vigil

·10 min read

More than 100 people attended a candlelight vigil and wake Thursday night for Jin Shin, the man who was shot and killed Monday in Fort Worth after a car crash after leaving a K-pop event.

Fort Worth police said they have interviewed the person who shot Shin and are speaking to others involved in the traffic accident on South University Drive but no arrests have been made or charges filed.

Friends, business partners and customers of Shin’s Dallas business, Family Karaoke, gathered Thursday outside his bar and lit prayer candles.

They offered Christian and Buddhist prayers as they lit incense and candles with messages they wrote on the sides, like “Justice for Jin,” “We love you Jin,” and “Love you Hyung,” the Korean word for older brother. They placed the candles on and around a table with a photo of him in the center. The candles were joined by flowers and glasses and bottles of alcohol.

Born in South Korea but raised in North Texas, Shin, 43, was a Marine veteran who is being remembered as a mentor, a friend, an advocate for his community and someone who brought people together.

The wake was a time for the people who cared about him to share stories, mourn together and express their outrage at his death, but more than anything else it was a time for them to celebrate the things he accomplished and the times they spent together.

They told stories of his generosity and the devotion he had to seeing the people around him happy and successful. They talked about the crawfish boils he hosted throughout the summer, the time he bought a $400 king crab for one of the boils and made sure everybody got a piece, and about the boat he bought this year and then invited anybody he knew to go out on the lake with him every single Sunday.

Jin Shin regularly hosted crawfish boils at his business, Family Karaoke, over the summer. Friends said he was enthusiastic about perfecting his recipe and one time even bought a $400 king crab to go in the boil. He made sure everybody there got a piece.
Jin Shin regularly hosted crawfish boils at his business, Family Karaoke, over the summer. Friends said he was enthusiastic about perfecting his recipe and one time even bought a $400 king crab to go in the boil. He made sure everybody there got a piece.

They talked about his efforts to bring communities together, like hosting different events at Family Karaoke for hackers, K-pop fans, anime lovers and cultural gatherings. They talked about how he supported the community when a man targeted a nearby Korean hair salon, shooting and wounding three women. And how he met with business owners in the area to talk about ways to protect themselves, their families, their customers and their businesses.

And everybody said that it didn’t matter how you knew Shin or who he was with, he was always the same person: passionate, loving, generous and selfless.

‘He wanted you to come and experience the culture’

Nikki Senephoumy, owner of local Thai restaurant Nalinh Market, said Shin brought people together no matter their race or nationality or creed. She recalled how he was a driving force behind helping to organize a recent Laos New Year celebration.

“He wanted everyone there,” Senephoumy said. “Everybody. No matter your background or where you came from. He wanted you to come and experience the culture and the celebration.”

Caryn Clark, a friend and longtime customer, shared similar experiences with Shin. Clark met Shin at Family Karaoke, which she described as the best place to go and sing in DFW.

When Clark was the organizer of a Korean-English language exchange meetup in Dallas, Shin hosted special events for her group. He would invite them for watch parties, K-pop nights, Thanksgiving dinners and oftentimes just to sing. Half the time, he provided the food.

She recalled one party he hosted for the group centered around the popular South Korean variety reality show “Running Man.” Another time, Shin invited the group to study Korean at his business by watching K-pop music videos and translating the lyrics. That night, he provided them a nacho bar, free of charge.

Jin Shin, in the center back wearing a gray tank top, was known to host events promoting an appreciation for Korean culture at his business, Family Karaoke, including this party centered around the popular South Korean TV series “Running Man.”
Jin Shin, in the center back wearing a gray tank top, was known to host events promoting an appreciation for Korean culture at his business, Family Karaoke, including this party centered around the popular South Korean TV series “Running Man.”

“He would usually join in with us,” Clark said. “He would brush up on his Korean and he was always thrilled that non-Koreans were excited by Korean culture and the language. He wanted to share that.”

Donny Cole, a friend and former employee of Shin’s at Korean restaurant Dan Sung Sa, said you could always count on him to encourage your exploration of different cultures. He could also be counted on to join you in singing at Family Karaoke if you asked him.

His favorite song, Cole said, was “A Change is Gonna Come” by Sam Cooke.

“He really did that song justice,” Cole said.

And it went beyond sharing the experiences of different heritages.

He once hosted a hacking competition at Family Karaoke. He invited anime fans to his bar to binge shows. K-pop stans would come regularly for gatherings celebrating the music or to dance together. He threw Super Bowl parties and birthdays.

For years, Family Karaoke was known to many as a place to go for just about anything, because Shin would always find a way to make an event work, friends said.

One of his former employees even got married on the stage in the main room of the bar. Kelli Montgomery said that when she and her then-fiance couldn’t decide where to get married, she asked Shin for advice. He told her he would open the bar to her free of charge.

A trusted adviser

Most people who knew Shin well will tell you they met him at Family Karaoke, but it didn’t take long for them to know him outside of the karaoke bar.

James Phan, Shin’s business partner at nearby Korean restaurant Dan Sung Sa, remembered how Shin was more than someone he ran a business with. He was friend and a mentor.

“If he wasn’t at DSS, he was always here [at Family Karaoke] and I knew that anytime I had a problem or I needed advice, I could just drive down here,” Phan said. “He would be here. And he would always be ready to help.”

Phan said when he opened Dan Sung Sa, it was his first time owning a restaurant. When he hit hard times, Shin didn’t hesitate to step in and start sharing his experience. And that wasn’t just the way he was with his business partners.

When Senephoumy’s business struggled during the height of the COVID-19 pandemic, Shin was the first person she went to for help. Not only did he give her advice, he partnered with her to host events that helped her make money for the restaurant.

When Clark needed to work through problems or difficulties with her language exchange group, Shin was always ready and happy to sit down and talk things through with her and find solutions.

More than a ‘pillar of the community’

Phan said that Shin’s role in the lives of Asian-Americans in Dallas is impossible to describe.

“He was more than a pillar of the community,” Phan said. “That loses a lot of what he was. Anybody who needed something that he could give or something that he could do, he would give it and he would do it. It didn’t matter what it cost him. And if it did cost him anything, you’d probably never know.”

If he ever heard about somebody in his community who needed financial support, Shin would start a GoFundMe and host fundraisers at Family Karaoke. Several people said he always matched donations in some way and usually gave more anonymously.

A lot of times, you wouldn’t even know Shin was doing something nice for you until you saw the results, they said.

Montgomery recalled how when she was working at Family Karaoke, a coworker was diagnosed with breast cancer, and Shin hosted a fundraiser at the bar. The employee worked the fundraiser without knowing anything about it. She found out when all the profits from the event, along with money Shin donated himself and any tips other employees were able and willing to offer, were given to her at the end of the night.

“He wasn’t only generous when he had plenty,” his friend Melissa Bolin said. “He was generous in times of hardship, when he didn’t even have enough. That says so much about him.”

Friends said the attention and care he gave to local people experiencing homelessness also spoke volumes about him as a person. He would host Christmas dinners at Family Karaoke. Anybody who could pay would do so, but the local homeless community knew they could come and eat for free. The money from those dinners always went to a charity.

Perry Southidara met Shin while he was homeless. He was living in a motel room at the time and went to Family Karaoke for a friend’s birthday celebration. When Shin somehow found out that Southidara didn’t have a permanent home, Shin gave him free food to eat there and then a to-go box that was almost overflowing with food for later. He wouldn’t let him pay.

And after years of complaining to his friends and employees about somebody feeding the stray cats around his business, Shin was caught as the one who had been putting out bowls of water and leftover food out for them at the end of the night.

“Nobody ever went hungry around Jin, even the stray cats he pretended to hate,” Senephoumy said.

Peter Southidara, another leader in the Asian-American community in Dallas, said one of the worst parts of Shin’s death is what everybody knew he would accomplish in the future based on what he’d already done.

“Jin had the ability to inspire anybody without even speaking to them,” Southidara said. “He could inspire you through his actions alone, because of everything he’d done for people and for this community. Pillar of the community isn’t enough to describe him.”

Peng Dang, a local comedian who was with Shin at the K-pop event in Fort Worth on Sunday night, said they met when Shin showed up to one of his comedy sets at an open-mic night. Shin approached Dang after the show and told him how impressed he was and invited him back to Family Karaoke.

“We’d never met before, but he told me he saw that I was there and wanted to show support for Asian comedians,” Dang said.

After that, Dang said, their friendship was inevitable. When Dang headlined his first comedy show in Deep Ellum in June, he had no idea that Shin had bought several tickets and started inviting people to come and had been promoting the show at Family Karaoke until the night of his performance.

“He would do nice things and just never tell you he was doing it,” Dang said. “He’d surprise you like that.”

Before long, Dang would walk into Family Karaoke and people would recognize him because of how much Shin talked about and shared his comedy.

“He was proud of what I was doing,” Dang said.

Dang was with Shin on Sunday night before Shin was killed early Monday morning.

He said that after sharing the last two cigarettes he had with Shin after the event, Shin left excited about what would come for Korean cultural appreciation in Fort Worth. He’d been inspired by the fact that the event had so many people taking part in the celebration who weren’t Asian.

Dang said he finds some small sort of comfort knowing that Shin enjoyed that event so much.

“He loved that other people loved our cultures,” Dang said.

Shin is survived by his parents, his two younger sisters, his 14-year-old daughter, his girlfriend Chi, and the many friends he considered family.

The funeral and memorial for Shin will be held at 7 p.m. Tuesday at Korean Central United Methodist Church in Irving. Burial services will be 10 a.m. Wednesday at Rolling Oaks Cemetery in Coppell. The family has invited everybody to attend.

A GoFundMe for Shin’s family, covering funeral and legal expenses as well as a fund for his 14-year-old daughter, had already raised more than $64,000 as of Friday afternoon.