BAYOU LA BATRE, Alabama – Kieu Ngoc Phan wept as she looked across the water at the boat docks where the bodies of her two young sons had been taken ashore, days earlier.
The 23-year-old mother stood silent during a candlelight vigil Monday evening in memory of her four children, who allegedly were thrown from the Dauphin Island bridge by their father one week ago.
“I know there’s nothing we can do to fill the losses you have,” said the Rev. Phi Vo, a Baptist minister who has been counseling the children’s family. “I pray that God gives you the strength.”
The vigil ended a day of searching for the bodies of Phan’s two daughters Lindsey Luong, 1, and Hannah Luong, 2, both presumed dead.
The bodies of their brothers — Ryan Phan, 3, and Danny Luong, 4 months — were found in the Alabama coastal marshlands during the weekend.
Their father, 37-year-old Lam Luong, has been charged with four counts of capital murder in connection with the deaths of the children. He is in jail without bail.
Police said Luong confessed on Jan. 8 to throwing the children from the 80-foot-tall two-lane bridge on the day before as an act of revenge against his wife.
But Luong’s attorney said last week — before any of the bodies was found — that Luong was pressured by police into making a false confession, and that he actually gave the children to two women he did not know.
Search crews will continue to probe Alabama and Mississippi waters and coastal land today.
Officials said the bodies of the two girls have likely washed ashore, and much of the search efforts will focus on the land. The search area stretches from Bayou La Batre to the shores near Moss Point, Miss.
Danny Luong’s body was found Saturday in marshland at Point Aux Pins about 10 miles west of the Dauphin Island bridge. His brother Ryan Phan’s body was found three miles further west in similar terrain at the Bayou La Fourche Bay in Grand Bay on Sunday.
On Monday, about 125 volunteers worked from dawn until dusk, but the bodies of the two girls were not discovered.
“The morale is still high,” said Mobile County Sheriff Sam Cochran, at the close of Monday’s operations. “Everybody is still working very, very hard.”
Meanwhile, about 100 local residents gathered around the family of the children at a vigil near the Bayou La Batre city docks, as the sun set over the Mississippi Sound.
Friends and strangers alike spoke comforting words to the family, with thoughts and prayers spoken in Vietnamese and English.
“Hush now, babies, it’s all OK, you went home with God today,” said 18-year-old Jessica Gilmore of Irvington, reading a poem she wrote for the children. “He will hug you when you are sad, give you a life you never had.”
As the ceremony ended, the group sang “Amazing Grace” as an emotional Phan was led away.
Police have said the acts were motivated by revenge, but investigators have declined to release any further details.
Bayou La Batre police said Luong, an Amerasian who immigrated from Vietnam in 1984, reported his four children missing on Jan. 7, sparking a missing persons investigation.
Luong is scheduled to appear for a 9 a.m. court hearing today with Presiding District Judge Charles McKnight.
His attorney, Joe Kulakowski, filed a motion Monday asking for the judge to approve hiring a translator for his client.
McKnight appointed Kulakowski last week to represent Luong, who couldn’t afford to hire a lawyer on his own.
The judge could have approved the request routinely as an administrative matter in his chambers without requiring the presence of the defendant, but the judge said early Monday that the district attorney’s office had requested a hearing.
“The defendant was born in Vietnam and essentially has been raised in the Vietnamese and Asian fishing culture of the Gulf Coast,” Kulakowski wrote in his request.
Luong, Kulakowski explained, “is uneducated in the English language and cannot comprehend the nature of the charges without the assistance of a translator. An effective representation of this defendant is essential to the Constitution of the United States and the Constitution of the State of Alabama.”
While acknowledging that a request for a translator is routine, District Attorney John Tyson Jr. said Monday that his office is not convinced one is needed.
“We want to be sure to establish with the court — and everybody else — that this man is capable of understanding and speaking the English language well,” Tyson said. “He, in fact, does. And we want to make sure that everyone involved understands that.”