July 1, 2016 - 10:46 pm
The woman whose husband killed her and their three children before killing himself Wednesday night quit work less than two weeks before her death because she was “scared for her life,” a co-worker said Friday.
“I cannot work,” read an abrupt June 18 text from the woman, Phoukeo Dej-Oudom, 35, to her manager. “He’ll know I am where I am. I have to quit now.”
On Wednesday, Las Vegas police said, Dej-Oudom’s husband, Jason Dej-Oudom, 34, chased and shot her down outside a Walgreens at the intersection of Lake Mead and Jones boulevards.
That night, he also shot their three children in the family’s nearby apartment before shooting himself. All five died from gunshot wounds to the head, the coroner’s office confirmed.
The wife, who went by “Gayle” at work, was an assistant manager at the Sport Clips Haircuts at 5130 S. Fort Apache Road, her manager, who did not want to be named, said Friday. She was an outgoing Cleveland Cavaliers fan who “was probably the nicest person you would’ve ever met,” but she had been experiencing trouble at home recently.
About a month and a half ago, the woman shared with co-workers that her husband had taken her three children — Anhurak, 9, Xonajuk, 14, and Dalavanh, 15 — to Ohio, where most of her family lives, without her knowledge or permission. He came back with the children, but she filed for divorce soon after on May 25, citing the incident in court records.
In the window between the filing and her death, her manager said the woman started missing shifts sporadically, coming in the next day to apologize and explain the circumstances. But her co-workers already understood, the manager said.
“When she said, ‘Hey, I’m not going to make it in today,’ we knew what she was talking about,” the manager said. “But when she was here, she was just Gayle. She could be herself here.”
The manager said she often brought her children into the store, where they would hang out as she finished up work.
“They were probably the best, well-behaved kids,” the manager said “Very polite, very bubbly.”
Though Phoukeo Dej-Oudom worked to keep her home life private, co-workers knew her living situation had recently shifted, the manager said. Dej-Oudom and her kids sometimes stayed with her cousin in Las Vegas but had recently spent a few days in a women’s shelter.
“She feared for her life. She made that very clear.”
Days before her death, she filed a restraining order against her husband in Clark County Family Court, co-workers said, but it was denied.
It’s unclear whether she was able to file the order or why it may have been denied; the court was closed when the Review-Journal worked to confirm the details Friday.
When “Gayle” left her job, the manager said “she never lost her support system.” Co-workers kept in touch with her, asking how they could help. One particular co-worker and friend met with her “daily,” and since Dej-Oudom’s death, the co-worker has been distraught.
“She’s not handling it well,” the manager said, adding that managers from other Sport Clips locations throughout the city have come into the Fort Apache store to cover shifts, allowing staff time to grieve.
“It’s still…” the manager paused. “I don’t think we can quite wrap our heads around it, that it’s really happened.”
Neighbors at the family’s 1900 N. Torrey Pines Drive apartment said Friday that Jason and Phoukeo Dej-Oudom kept to themselves.
“They’re a quiet couple,” neighbor Marco Lopez said.
He said Jason Dej-Oudom had just helped Lopez’s mother with her car troubles Tuesday. Lopez also said the couple were friendly with everyone in the neighborhood.
“You never know what people have going on behind closed doors,” he said.
Lopez said he saw the wife frantically running through the complex about 7 p.m. Wednesday. She was yelling for help and trying to get into people’s cars, but the man said he was nervous and didn’t know what to do.
“It looked like he wasn’t going to chase her at first,” Lopez said.
Emma Lester, 11, who lives in the building across from the Dej-Oudoms with her mom and sister, said she remembers when the family first moved in.
The Dej-Oudom family walked throughout the complex to introduce themselves, and Phoukeo and Jason made a point of meeting the parents of their children’s playmates.
“Nothing happened like this before,” she said of the shootings and subsequent SWAT standoff. “That was pretty scary for me.”
Jason Dej-Oudom was known for working on his motorcycle in the parking lot, and his wife took the kids for a walk every day. Sometimes they would go to the park and have a picnic — Emma said she saw them with a picnic basket several times.
She also remembered the children playing in a small parklike area toward the entrance of the complex.
“The kids looked really happy,” the girl said.
In the May divorce filing, Phoukeo Dej-Oudom wrote that the family moved to the valley from Columbus, Ohio, in March 2015.
The Clark County School District could not say when the children were first enrolled in school because the Dej-Oudoms prohibited the sharing of registry information. But on Thursday, the district said Anhurak last attended Culley Elementary School in February, Dalavanh last attended Escobedo Middle School in June 2015, and Xonajuk last attended Brinley Middle School in January.
Officers had responded to a domestic violence incident at the family’s home earlier in June, police said, but a department spokesman didn’t elaborate on that incident, citing the open investigation.
Dispatch logs for June show that police responded to the complex twice for domestic disturbances — once for an assault and battery, and once for an unknown disturbance.
Police also said Jason Dej-Oudom faced domestic violence charges in Ohio in 2006, but the Review-Journal has not been able to locate records related to the case.
Court records from Franklin County, Ohio, show that he faced felony theft and forgery charges in 2007. He pleaded guilty to the theft charge, and prosecutors dropped the forgery charge. He was on probation until August 2014.
Police would not say Friday where Dej-Oudom obtained the gun used in the killings.
On Friday night, about 100 people gathered for a vigil at the Walgreens where the woman died.
The children’s teachers and men, women and children of all ages and races helped each other light memorial candles. They also signed a board with messages of love and grief.
Shanelle Garbutt, 30, of Las Vegas led the event. She was the third-grade teacher of Anhurak and described the boy as “a beautiful light,” “an overachiever” and an “excellent student” who was kind, caring and helpful.
Garbutt said, “Every year on July 1st, I will be here to celebrate his life and to remember him.”
A group of teen girls who were friends with Dalavanh, 15, said the girl was “amazing, gorgeous, and nice,” adding that she “tried to make people happy.”
The day before her and her family’s death, the girls all went to the movies together to see “Independence Day: Resurgence.”
“She lit up a room and was a beautiful soul,” one of the friends said.
A relative set up a GoFundMe for the family’s funeral expenses late Friday. As of 11:30 p.m., it had raised about $740.
A memorial service will be held sometime next week, said Taren Olson, who also worked with “Gayle.” She added that the Sport Clips staff is working with her relatives in Ohio to plan it.
“She was a delight, just an absolute ray of sunshine,” Olson said, adding that the team was still “completely shell-shocked.”
Review-Journal writers Raven Jackson and Max Michor contributed to this report. Contact Rachel Crosby at firstname.lastname@example.org or 702-387-5290. Find @rachelacrosby on Twitter. Contact Wesley Juhl at email@example.com and 702-383-0391. Find @WesJuhl on Twitter.