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In the year since Ma Kaing was killed, her son doesn’t see change around him

Denver Police say crime has decreased, and point to lights, cameras and more police presence in the area around New Freedom Park.

DENVER — A look back at one year in New Freedom Park in Denver's East Colfax Neighborhood is painful for Kyaw Win Oo. 

But the anger he felt immediately after his mother's death has subsided, and it's been replaced with a kind of peace. 

"I won’t be disrespecting my mother’s name and legacy by not living," said Oo. 

When he was in seventh grade, a new U.S. citizen, Oo told people he wanted to be a police officer or serve in the military to help the country that has kept him safe. 

Oo's mother, Ma Kaing, brought his family to Denver from Myanmar for a better life. His sister, Ma's oldest daughter, was murdered in Thailand. 

Ma was killed on July 15 last year when, police said, stray bullets shot by a gang from New Freedom Park hit her. 

"It's ironic, isn't it?" said Oo. "New Freedom." 

Oo remembers when the park was built for the refugee and immigrant community that surrounds it. But even before his mother was killed, he stopped going there, because he said gangs had taken it over. 

Credit: Kyaw Win Oo
Ma Kaing with her kids when Kyaw Win Oo graduated from high school.

After Ma's death, two community meetings were held at her apartment complex, Hidden Brook Communities, with people who live there calling for change to make them safer. 

"But as time goes on, a lot of community members are not being heard because we don’t live in a goddamn suburbia neighborhood," said Oo at the first meeting to a round of applause. 

Denver Police installed lights and a HALO camera in New Freedom Park. Lighting was also added to the alleys and streets around Hidden Brook. 

Data provided by DPD showed from July 2021 to July 2022, there were 130 crimes reported in the blocks around New Freedom Park. In that same timeframe a year later, there were 103 crimes reported. 

Credit: Denver Police Department
Area DPD analyzed for crime data

DPD said that's a 20% decrease in all crime reports from that area.

In an email, DPD said they believe "environmental enhancements, community outreach and proactive policing have had a positive effect on crime in the area – especially violent crime." 

But Oo doesn't feel any safer since his mom was killed. He notices the other changes, like the responsibility he's had to take on. 

"In a way, I'm putting up a façade because I do have to look strong for my siblings, for my father," he said in August. "As much as I want to curl up and cry, I can't. I got to continue on with life, I got to run the restaurant." 

Taw Win was his mother's Burmese and Thai restaurant. He was there when he spoke about the arrests in his mother's murder for the first time. 

Denver Police arrested five men with ties to a gang in connection with Ma's death. 

"And every one of their families my mother has helped," said Oo, who was hoping the people arrested wouldn't be from his own community. "Food distribution days my mother would take less for herself and would give it to them." 

The suspects are behind bars waiting for their day in court, but Oo knows other members of their gang are still out there, and he's ready for a change himself. 

"My welcome has overstayed, unfortunately. There's got to be a new chapter in my life," he said. 

He has plans to move his family into a house in another city. He already sold the restaurant. 

Credit: Kyaw Win Oo
Kyaw Win Oo with a DPD Officer who he did a ride along with as he looks into what it would take to be an officer.

He thinks his mom would be proud. 

"She took those opportunities. She used them to her advantage. She did better for herself," said Oo. "And she forced me and my siblings to have goals and ambitions." 

His ambitions aren't much different than they were in seventh grade. But now he has a reason to pursue them. 

"I do hope to become an officer, for one thing," he said. "It's a lot of work, a lot of time put into it, you know. I hope to find more peace of mind. I hope to find more peace of mind. I hope to see my siblings flourish at our new home." 


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