The Arizona Republic , June 26, 1999
"Mostly, I spank them," says mother of brutally beaten, slain child.
By Jim Walsh
A bruise the size of a fist. A black eye. A bruised leg. A bruised cheek and nose.
School nurses recognized the warning signs. So did the Gilbert police and state Child Protective Services.
Bruises were reported at least four times on the Tuong daughters, raising suspicions of child abuse, according to Gilbert police reports released Friday.
But each time, the parents and children explained them away with hard-to-believe stories, leaving police with insufficient evidence to make arrests, the reports said.
Police said the cover story was broken only after Christine Tuong's death. Authorities said Christine's sisters, ages 9 and 7, finally ignored instructions from their mother, Minh Tuong, 30, and told the truth.
All three girls were beaten viciously with a belt by their mother and their father, Tung Tuong, 42, according to a police report. An autopsy concluded that Christine was severely beaten and died of hemorrhaging.
The autopsy findings and Christine's sisters' statements led police to recommend second-degree murder charges against the parents. Maricopa County Attorney Rick Romley said a decision is expected by next week.
On May 15, when Christine was found dead in the family's home, both parents told a far different story to Detective Eric Shuhandler at the Gilbert police station.
"Mostly, I spank them," Minh Tuong said, when asked whether the parents use physical punishment. If the children repeatedly "step out of line," she applies "kind of a little swat with the belt," but she denied being heavy-handed.
Tung Tuong told Shuhandler that he "almost never spank a kid" but said his wife "once in a while will spank them on the back." He said he did not believe his wife caused Christine's fatal injuries.
"My wife is a love, a caring person. The kid is her life, basically," he said. "I don't think I ever remember spanking them. Yelled at them, yes, yes."
Sally Ordini, a CPS spokeswoman, said the agency received no prior reports of Christine being abused. She declined comment on whether the agency has investigated any possible abuse of other Tuong children.
But the Gilbert police reports make it clear that CPS was well aware of prior abuse reports on the Tuong children. The girls' names were redacted from the reports.
In addition to the two girls, the Tuongs have a young son, and Minh is nine months pregnant.
In December 1996, Gilbert police received their first report of possible child abuse. A Greenfield Elementary School health assistant noticed a bruise on one of the Tuong girl's legs, along with bruises on her nose and forehead, according to police reports released Friday.
When questioned by a police officer, "she replied she was playing with her siblings and ran into something, however, she was not clear what," the report said. The girl also denied anyone had hit her.
Police officials called a CPS caseworker, who told them there had been past allegations of child abuse and that she would follow up on the latest report.
In February 1997, another school nurse, this time at Gilbert Elementary School, reported another case of potential abuse when she discovered a fading bruise on the left cheek of one of the Tuong daughters, a police report said.
The nurse told police that evidence of child abuse had been found on all three daughters during school examinations, the report said.
Minh Tuong told police the family had just moved and the girls were tripping over moving boxes, the report said, adding that the bruise on her daughter's face was caused by falling into a pile of pebbles.
Kasai Welch, a CPS caseworker, told police about two more reports.
In November 1996, CPS received a report that one of the girls had a bruise on her cheek the size of a fist and that she gave three stories about how she was injured.
In October 1995, CPS was notified that one of the girls showed up bruised at Adams Elementary School in Mesa. When asked about the bruise, Tung Tuong took his daughter's hand and left, the police report said.
Questioned by police and CPS, the girl said only that she usually was punished by being "grounded," in which her parents refused to give her ice cream and candy, the report said. She admitted she was spanked on her buttocks but nothing more.
Police had little else to go on.
"All three children were seen and appear to be physically healthy," Detective Kaye Weiby wrote. "None seemed to be uncomfortable in the presense of their mother or afraid of her."
Jim Walsh can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org via e-mail or at 1-602-444-7984. Republic staff writer Chuck Hawley contributed to this article..