EVERETT — That night Paul Stoot Sr. swung by the corner store on Broadway to run an errand for his mother.
“Jae, where the cough drops?” Stoot asked the clerk. “I don’t know where the cough drops at.”
“They’re right behind you,” replied Jae An, 58, the owner.
Stoot, a pastor at the Greater Trinity Church in south Everett, moved to the neighborhood two decades ago. At times he’d come in twice a week, but he hadn’t seen An in a while. So they caught up with each other on Monday night.
“He was happy,” Stoot said. “His wife was happy.”
About two hours later Duc Dong, 48, walked into the store, just before closing time. He made a beeline for a cooler stocked with green tea. He turned and didn’t see An behind the counter.
“Anybody home?” he called out.
Then he saw An on the floor. He’d been stabbed multiple times in the neck, according to the Snohomish County Medical Examiner’s Office. He died of blood loss, in an apparent robbery.
Officers arrested a suspect Monday night for investigation of aggravated murder, attempted murder and robbery.
An lived with his wife and kids down the street from the food mart.
Over 100 people held candles at a vigil Thursday, singing “This Little Light of Mine,” in the store parking lot at Broadway and Columbia Avenue.
“Jae and his wife have been nothing but kindness,” Stoot told the crowd. “Nothing but common everyday citizens, trying to support themselves and make an earnest living.”
Longtime customers shared memories of times they were short a few bucks, and An asked them to worry about it later, or else to forget about it.
An, who immigrated here from Korea, gave out free mangoes and bananas to the kids who’d pick up Gatorade after playing basketball.
“Who would kill Jae?” said Kaylie Kennedy. “It’s absolutely insane. He was super nice. … You didn’t just take a store clerk. You took a father. You took a husband. You took a family man.”
An was on the night shift — dangerous hours in a thankless, low-paying line of work. Often he’d sit behind the counter seven days a week, customers said. On weekdays the doors opened at 7 a.m. and didn’t close till 10:30 p.m.
Michealob Johnson, 25, lived blocks away. He’d bought things at the store maybe a half-dozen times. He’d lost two jobs, couldn’t pay rent and faced eviction, so he decided to rob the nearest mini mart, according to his statement to detectives. In a police interview, he reported he said hello to An, then stabbed him in the neck.
As the robber tried to collect the loot, a woman walked in. He slashed at her throat because she had witnessed too much, according to Everett police. She wrestled the knife from him, broke it and scuffled out to the parking lot as he tore off her sweatshirt. She suffered cuts to her chin and hand, but no serious injuries.
Dong walked in on the aftermath.
He called police at 10:02 p.m., he said.
Meanwhile, the suspect told a roommate what had happened, then waited for officers to arrest him, according to police reports. A judge set his bail at $5 million.
All week, people left bouquets, baskets of flowers and scrawled notes on poster boards leaning against three rust-speckled gas pumps.
“You have a whole community that loves you & is behind you during this time,” one note read.
Victor Pierce Sr., who leads a Christian ministry, spoke first at the vigil.
“Jae and his family and this store represented a community, and a family that was trying to make a living and doing those things right,” he said. “ … The guy who obviously wasn’t thinking right and wasn’t acting right, he needed help. I’m hoping that by gathering here, that people will see the love, and see there’s love for them somewhere, if they reach out for it.”
An’s family had greatly improved the store since taking over ownership a few years ago, said Jann Valle, 20, who would stop by daily.
“Oh, hey, it’s you guys again?” An often joked. “Why aren’t you guys doing your studies?”
As a teenager, he’d confided in An that he didn’t know what he wanted to be when he grew up, but that he liked to mess around with machines. An suggested that he study engineering.
“You know, maybe I’ll try for it,” Valle told him.
Today he’s an engineering student at Everett Community College.
Others were reminded of small gestures from a clerk who knew them well.
For months Angelica Ruiz, 18, would buy candy — M&M’s, with nuts in them — on every visit.
“It got to the point where (An) would just grab the M&M’s, put them on the counter, and wait for me to choose something else,” she said.
Faye Potter, who uses an electric scooter because of two bad hips, would call in her orders, and An would meet her outside with the goods.
Snow ground the region to a halt in February. An carried groceries to Potter’s home.
In the snowstorm another neighbor, Dave Olson, walked into the store carrying a cup of coffee. Olson said An’s wife grabbed it, cried out, “Oh, that’s cold!” and warmed it up for him.
“I’m blown away looking around at how many people have been touched,” Olson said at the vigil. ”Everybody’s got a story. … Everybody here is here for a reason.”
People knelt on the asphalt to light prayer candles Thursday in front of portraits of An.
“It’s hard to push away the anger,” Olson added. “You have to, though.”
As people took turns telling stories to the crowd, a woman in a fleece jacket came up to Pastor Stoot and quietly asked him if they could sing “Amazing Grace.”
“Yeah, let’s do that,” Stoot said.
He wrapped an arm around her.
“You stand right here next to me, help me sing it,” he said. “What’s your name?”
Caleb Hutton: 425-339-3454; firstname.lastname@example.org. Twitter: @snocaleb.