Sherry Soth wanted nothing more than to find herself. At 21-years-old, she was interested in just about everything.
“If you were close to her, you just knew that she wanted to find herself so badly. And she was almost there. She almost had it,” said a good friend of Soth’s.
Soth was fatally wounded when a house party in South Seattle broke out in gunfire at around 2 a.m. on July 1. Five other young adults suffered injuries from gunfire and were rushed to Harborview Medical Center. They have since recovered. Soth was shot in the abdomen and died in surgery a few hours later. The bullet tore through her liver and severed a major artery. Authorities reported about 20-30 gun shells found on the ground after the shooting. Police are still looking for at least two shooters but have not released details.
The incident, a drive-by shooting in the 9700 block of Renton Avenue South, renewed anxieties and concerns about violence in Seattle.
Many community advocates worry about the escalating violence. Only halfway through 2012, Soth is the 22nd homicide victim in Seattle this year, according to Seattle Police reports. In 2011, there were 20 homicides in all.
“It didn’t seem real because she’s not the type of person to be anywhere near violence,” said Allen Pa, one of Soth’s best friends who has known her since childhood.
Friends describe Soth as outgoing, sweet, humble, and enthusiastic. “She always wanted to try new things and always wanted to learn how to do this and that,” said Pa.
Soth was a full-time cocktail server at Urbane, a wine bar attached to the Hyatt Hotel in downtown Seattle. She graduated from Ingraham High School in 2009 and planned to attend Seattle Central Community College. She recently moved into an apartment in South Lake Union and had goals of traveling, including to Cambodia. Being the daughter of Cambodian refugees, she had dreams of visiting her homeland and performing social service work.
Soth’s passion for giving back to the community started as a high school freshman in 2004 when she joined a program at CHAYA (Now API Chaya) that sought to educate and end the issues of domestic violence, sexual assault, human trafficking and more in the pan-Asian American community.
“I remember her joining and being one of the only two freshmen girls in the group that year,” said Judith Panlasigui, a program manager at API Chaya. “As a freshman she wasn’t intimidated or shy to participate.”
Soth was a part of the youth group and API Leadership Group, where she volunteered to help with many community events that raised awareness around the topics of domestic violence and sexual assault. She stayed involved with API Chaya throughout high school.
“I remember her being so outgoing and energetic. She always wanted everyone to be involved,” said Panlasigui.
Soth’s reach and connection with others were present at her candlelight vigil on July 2, following her death. At least 100 people gathered in South Seattle where Soth collapsed after being shot.
“It was nice to see so many young people there supporting each other, but the context of why they were doing it is really sad,” said Panlasigui.
Pa was surprised at how many people showed up. “Sherry was the type of person that always complained about not having friends. She was always whining to me about it. But there were so many people at the vigil who came and said nice things about her.”
A couple of pastors and ministers also attended the vigil, offering prayers and ideas of how to change the community.
“It’s not fair that people can’t come out and have fun and just enjoy social gatherings. They have to worry about what’s going to happen. It can cost you your life to just go out and have a fun time,” said Pa.
Linh Thach, the Seattle Police Department’s Asian Community Liaison, believes there are not enough agencies working with youth, particularly in Laotian and Cambodian communities.
“We don’t have agencies to provide this kind of conflict prevention or intervention. We need to have agencies that provide these kinds of things,” said Thach.
This past year, the Washington State Legislature approved a budget that cut $300 million in spending, notably in social services. Funding for programs that worked to combat violence such as gang prevention were cut at the city and county levels.
“As an organization [API Chaya] we are really sad that this happened but also want to see it as an opportunity to educate our communities about the violence that’s happening,” said Panlasigui. “Sherry is one of many youth who have been affected by violence. I think it’s a time where we need to work across communities to really address these types of issues and problems.”
Soth’s family gathered for a traditional Cambodian funeral on Saturday, July 7. There is a memorial fund for Soth at US Bank. Donations can be accepted by going to any US Bank branch and donating to the “Memory of Sherry Soth,” under the name, Savy Veth.
“She was just craving to live,” said friend Pa. “I imagined her growing up and giving back to the world. Just traveling and giving back to the community like she always wanted to.”