When Brian Aniki walked into a University of Massachusetts-Amherst gym for his first taekwondo practice, he noticed something special about the older student leading it.
“He was just over 6 feet tall and looked so calm and collected, an absolutely stoic leader,” Aniki recalled. «I thought, ‘This is a guy I can learn from.'»
Aniki wasn’t the only one impressed by the team’s leader, Kyu Cho, who became a close friend and mentor. Cho was wise and caring beyond his years, an elite martial artist who also excelled in the classroom, according to several friends and former team members.
After college, Cho went to law school, married, and returned to his native Texas, where he and his wife, Cindy Cho, had two sons: William, now 6, and James, who would be 3.
Aniki still remembers the emotion in Cho’s voice when she described William’s first milestones when old friends from college met again a few years ago.
“He loved being a father,” Aniki said.
William no longer has his father. Or his mother. Or his younger brother.
All three were killed over the weekend in the mass shooting at the Allen Premium Outlets in Allen, Texas, about 25 miles north of Dallas. William was injured in the attack, which claimed the lives of eight people before the heavily armed gunman was shot dead.
The murder of the couple and their youngest son has caused great grief in their church community near Dallas, where they lived, and across the country.
A GoFundMe page set up for William had raised nearly $1.5 million as of Tuesday afternoon.
Cho’s wife, Cindy, was a dentist and graduated from the University of Texas Health San Antonio School of Dentistry in 2013. She worked at Thrive Dental and Orthodontics in Richardson. She was 35 years old.
“Our entire team loved her so much and we are absolutely heartbroken,” the company said in a Facebook post that also described her as “the sweetest, most beautiful soul with the kindest heart.”
“She was an outstanding dentist, mother, wife, daughter, friend, and faithful woman of God,” the company said.
Cho graduated from UMass-Amherst in 2007 with a bachelor’s degree in political science, according to a school spokesperson. She then attended law school at the Ave Maria School of Law in Naples, Florida, graduating in 2010.
At the time of his death, Cho, 37, was working at the law firm Porter Legal Group in Richardson. She represented clients in multiple areas of law, but what she was most passionate about was immigration cases, the firm said.
“Although Kyu has only been with our firm a year, it was immediately apparent that he is one of the most caring, caring and considerate individuals we have ever had the pleasure of knowing and working with,” Porter Legal said in his Facebook page. .
Cho’s college friends were still dealing with a mix of shock and anger three days after the murder.
“I could have joined a sorority to feel the friendship of a family, but looking back I got a lot of that with my taekwondo team, and a lot of that was because of Kyu,” Lauren Anders Brown wrote in a post. personal item.
“He was the kind of friend you couldn’t see for 16 years but if you ran into him on the street you picked up right where you left off,” she wrote. «I’ll never know what it’s like to run into Kyu on the street, because a hateful person and an automatic weapon made it impossible last weekend.»
Ray Mak Hon Kit, a close friend who also knew Kyu in college, recalled Cho springing into action when he came down with the flu one day.
“Kyu invited me to dinner and told me that some Korean food would make me feel better,” Hon Kit said. “Then he introduced me to a Korean dish called Sundubu Jjigae, which means tofu stew. I recovered the next day.»
Hon Kit was traveling through South Korea in the days leading up to the shooting and updating Cho via text message. Then the exchange ended abruptly.
“I told him that I am in his country of origin. She told me to have a great time, to have fun and to eat a lot of good food,” she said. “I told him that I am in a place quite far from the center of Seoul and there is nothing there. Our conversation ended there.
The morning after the shooting, Hon Kit’s phone was flooded with messages from his former taekwondo classmates mourning the loss of their friend.
“Truly devastated,” he said. «I cried on the subway.»
Another college friend, Robert Luckhardt, said Cho was a much more mature natural leader than most people his age. He also had an infectious energy, according to Luckhardt.
“I don’t think I ever saw him not smile,” Luckhardt added. «He just had this endless positivity, and I always felt like he put other people before himself.»
Grace Ghang, 38, attended law school with Cho at Ave Maria Law School, where they were among a few Asians.
“Sometimes we would talk and joke around in Korean and there was an instant connection as soon as we were introduced,” he said.
The couple kept in touch after graduation. The last time they spoke in late 2021, they talked about getting their kids together for a playdate as soon as they could.
“We concluded our message by saying that we would love to meet up sometime since we both now live in Texas, and I was actually planning on taking a trip to Dallas at some point to try and catch up with him,” she said. «But now that opportunity is lost.»