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Gulfport honors young Hoang brothers as lifesavers after holdup

From left: Eric, 11, Andy, 10, and Thomas Hoang, 8, smile as they receive Police Lifesaving Medals from Lt. Robert Vincent.

DIRK SHADD | Times

From left: Eric, 11, Andy, 10, and Thomas Hoang, 8, smile as they receive Police Lifesaving Medals from Lt. Robert Vincent.

GULFPORT — A trip to the Joy Food Mart where their father worked was a special treat for the Hoang brothers.

Their father would give them $5 to take out the trash and to stack bottles of water and soda.

But on Dec. 22, the brothers — Eric, 11, Andy, 10 and Thomas, 8 — were faced with an unexpected responsibility.

Three masked men barged into the store and shot their father and another employee. The brothers, who were behind the counter during the attack, called 911 and rushed to help the injured men.

For their courage, the Gulfport City Council and Police Department presented lifesaving medals to the boys Tuesday night. The children are the first non-police officers to be recognized with the award, the Police Department's highest honor.

"They didn't run, they didn't hide," said acting police Chief Robert Vincent. "They just did exactly what they needed to do to get help."

The brothers immediately pinned their medals to Oshkosh B'Gosh sweatshirts they each wore.

The boys were solemn during the ceremony, showing the maturity they displayed the night of the shootings. But they giggled as they left City Hall with their parents and grandparents.

The boys said they were honored by the award, but they downplayed their bravery.

"Anybody could do it," said Andy Hoang. "They just need to stay calm and call for help."

On the night of the robbery, the Hoang family was getting ready to close and go home for dinner when three men with bandanas covering their faces walked in. The men were laughing.

"This is a robbery," they said.

Customers had bared water guns and joked about robbing the store in the past, so the family wasn't immediately alarmed.

Thanh Hoang, 43, told the men to stop kidding around. That's when one of the masked men shot him in the arm.

The boys stood in stunned silence as the robbers turned their attention to the cash drawer.

Tien Tran, 25, their father's longtime friend, scrambled to gather the money from the register. He passed it over to the criminals. They shot him in the chest anyway.

"When the blood started coming we started crying," said Andy Hoang. "I didn't understand why they shot him. It's just money."

Eric Hoang, 11, pressed the alarm button behind the counter as his brothers scrambled to comfort Tran, who they consider an uncle.

"We said, 'come on, it's okay, keep breathing,' " said Andy Hoang, 10.

Eric Hoang dialed 911.

"My dad and my uncle just got shot," the frantic boy told the operator. "Oh, my God! Oh, my God!"

A police officer arrived minutes later, but to the boys it felt like half an hour.

"This action no doubt contributed to saving the life of their uncle, who was critically wounded and would only be saved by quick application of emergency medical assistance," said Vincent.

Tran and Thanh Hoang have since recovered.

The store has installed a new security system. From behind the counter, a clerk can push a button that automatically locks the door to keep suspicious people out. The store also closes an hour earlier, at 8 p.m.

Police have yet to catch the culprits, but the Hoang brothers aren't worried.

"I know they will catch them," said Eric Hoang. "I hope they get the maximum penalty."

Gulfport honors young Hoang brothers as lifesavers after holdup 01/20/09 [Last modified: Wednesday, January 21, 2009 2:30am]
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