Quietly, in fits and starts interrupted by weeping, Mai Sheng Vang confided that her “world was utterly destroyed.”
Speaking publicly for the first time at a memorial service Saturday, the mother of three West Sacramento children who last month were killed allegedly by their father, remembered their smiles, their laughter and the feel of their hands on her face.
“I will never stop missing them. I will never live a day in my life without my heart yearning for them and breaking at their loss,” Vang said. “But I know I’m honored to be their mother, and have them in my soul and life, and I will carry them with me for the rest of my days.”
I will never stop missing them. I will never live a day in my life without my heart yearning for them and breaking at their loss.
Mai Sheng Vang, mother of three slain West Sacramento children
Vang thanked the West Sacramento community for the “outpouring of love, kindness and generosity” that “has helped me continue” and “helped me put my children to rest.”
More than 230 people attended the memorial at River Cities Funeral Chapel for Kelvin Kheng Hodges, 11, Julie KaoChong Hodges, 9, and Lucas Kong Hodges, 7 months, spilling out of the chapel onto rows of folding chairs set up on the lawn outside.
Many wore yellow ribbons bearing the siblings’ initials, created by the parent-teacher organization from Southport Elementary, where the children attended school.
At the start of the service, family members pinned the ribbons onto the lapels of six police and firefighters who responded to reports of domestic violence at Vang’s home on Sept. 13, then tightly embraced the officers.
“I know you share my nightmare of that night, and I pray for you and I think of you,” Vang said, expressing her gratitude for “the first responders who tried everything to help my children.”
Father Robert Hodges, who remains in Yolo County jail without bail, has been charged with three counts of murder with “special circumstances” that make him eligible for the death penalty, as well as one count of attempted murder for allegedly attacking his wife.
Family members and authorities have been at a loss to explain what drove Hodges, who has no criminal past in the area, to allegedly commit the slayings.
Standing in front of three small coffins, adorned by wreaths with white flowers and portraits of the siblings, Kelvin’s fourth-grade teacher, Marty Elliott, remembered his energy and his fascination with facts about sharks and “Star Wars.”
“Sometimes in the classroom, his enthusiasm would bubble over to the whole class and it would take a little bit to rein them back in,” Elliott said. “Kelvin might not have always been on the right page, or the right chapter, or the right lesson, or maybe even the right subject, but when he was redirected, he would beam that million-dollar smile … and it was impossible to stay mad at him at all.”
“Kelvin stole our hearts,” he said.
Matt Ainsworth, principal at Southport Elementary, described Julie’s “sweet and loving personality.” During a dodgeball game at school last year, he said, Julie ran around purposefully getting hit.
“She was kicking the ball. She was jumping in front of it,” Ainsworth said. “She said, ‘I don’t want anybody on my team to get out.’ ... She just wanted to make sure her teammates were safe.”
Baby Lucas loved baths and “making faces at his mommy over his crib,” according to an obituary provided in the program for the service. “He was just learning to say, ‘Mama,’ crawl and eat his favorite food, apples.”