A grieving family faces the unknown

Titi Mary Tran/ Nguoi-Viet English

Calvin Ho's picture from GoFundme page which was created in memory of him.

All Calvin Ho’s parents can do now is wonder.

Why did their 19-year-old son, who was so happy and so full of promise, leave one day and never return home. What happened to him before they inadvertently called a police officer who told them that their son was dead?

Calvin had a goal: to join the Zeta Phi Rho fraternity at California State University, Long Beach. He had pledged the social group, and to become a member, he had to complete a lengthy challenge: maintain a 3.0 grade-point average, go 20 weeks without alcohol, spend four hours in the library as a tutor, and keep his hair long, without wearing a hat, for six months, said he mother, Le Thi Ngoc Hong.

That morning of Feb. 24, the day he was to be initiated to the fraternity at a banquet, he happily bounced around their house.

“Today is my acceptance day,” his father, Hiep Ho, recalled his son saying. “I have overcome the challenges.”

Aiming to dress to impress, Calvin got his hair cut and asked his mother to iron his clothes. He was excited about spending the evening at the banquet with his friends and new fraternity brothers.

Still, he parents offered him the words of caution that all parents tell their teenagers. They told him to have a good time. And to be careful.

“No worries,” he replied.

They didn’t expect to see him until later the next day, a Saturday. He was going to stay at a friend’s house after the initiation, eat breakfast and then go to work at a Chinese restaurant. That was his typical Saturday.

“Usually, he comes homes late from school on Friday, he goes home to sleep and goes to work the next day,” his mother said.

So the next morning, his parents went about their day, assuming Calvin was at work until their daughter asked them why so many people were looking for Calvin, a graduate of La Quinta High School in Westminster, Calif.

Around 3 p.m. Saturday, 16-year-old Jenile Ho posted a message on her brother’s Facebook page.

“I’m Calvin’s little sister Jenile and if you know anything about my brother can you lmk my number is 1(714)XXX-XXXX or fb message me.”

“I felt a heavy rock pressing down on my heart,” his mother remembered. “Something bad had happened.”

Instead of news about Calvin coming to her on Facebook, Jenile just got questions.

“What happened to your brother?”

Sensing something might have happened, Hiep called his son’s cell phone and intended to leave this message: “Why are you not home yet? I’m very worried.”

A police officer answered the phone.

“I was caught by surprise,” Hiep said. “Honestly, I couldn’t imagine, my hands and whole body were shaking. In life, I couldn’t imagine a moment like that. The police said, ‘Please be calm so I can tell you.’ They kept repeating that sentence two, three times.”

“Please calm down, calm down,” said Hiep, quoting the police officer. “I want to tell you that your son has passed away.”

Just like that, Calvin was gone. His parents were not able to see his body until a couple of days later.

Now, weeks later, they still wonder.

The Long Beach Police Department’s report does not list a cause of death. A representative of the office of the Los Angeles County Department of Medical Examiner-Coroner said autopsy results were pending. Members of Zeta Phi Rho, a multicultural fraternity, declined to speak to a reporter.

Calvin’s parents know that the inductees went to an after-induction party at the fraternity house. The police report doesn’t offer many any other answers to the grieving family.

The report says that police were dispatched to a residence in the 1900 block of Shipway Avenue at Feb. 25 at 11:14 a.m. summoned there by the Long Beach Fire Department. That agency responded first to a 911 call and determined Calvin was already dead on their arrival.

Calvin was a sophomore at Cal State Long Beach, majoring in mechanical engineering. He had a lot of friends he had made through boy scouting and other activities, and many showed up at a candlelight vigil ceremony at Garden Grove Park on March 3 to share their memories. There, his grieving family heard many adjectives to describe him. Generous. Selfless. Upbeat. Hospitable. Positive. Honest. Smart. Funny.

A grieving family faces the unknown
A candlelight vigil for Calvin Ho by friends and family at Garden Grove Park on March 3rd.

“He always dreamed of socializing with many people, helping others, and I always followed him, helping him to achieve his wishes,” his father said.

Calvin’s parents said friends told them he died of alcohol poisoning in the middle of the night, but that has not been confirmed.

“He had asthma,” his mother said. “Maybe he was so happy, he drank a little bit and he went to sleep, and [the combination] made him sleep forever.”

Calvin was buried Saturday at the Westminster Memorial Park.

Le Thi Ngoc Hong said she is unsure what the family’s next step is. She said they have not yet considered taking any legal action.

“The biggest pain in this life is the pain of losing a child,” she said. “He has passed away. Even if I do something, it will not bring him back. I have many things to do for him.”

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