Davis Woo said he doesn’t know what caused his brother to fatally stab their mother before being shot dead by police in San Francisco’s Richmond District earlier this month.
However, Woo said today that he hopes the tragedy leads to increased dialogue in the local Asian community about mental illness, and more discussion in the city as a whole about the use of force by police.
On the morning of Oct. 3, Peter Woo, 44, stabbed his 73-year-old mother Nina Woo at her home in the 600 block of Funston Avenue.
Officers responded and found Peter’s 78-year-old father in the doorway with defensive stab wounds to his forearm and hand. The officers then went upstairs and found Nina Woo bleeding profusely from stab wounds to her upper torso, police said.
As they tried to pull her to safety, the officers were confronted by Peter, who was waving a knife in each hand, according to police.
An officer used a beanbag weapon against him but it was ineffective, so the second officer shot him with a gun, police said.
Peter Woo and his parents were taken to San Francisco General Hospital, where Peter and Nina succumbed to their injuries within minutes of each other.
A third victim, Peter’s 50-year-old sister, was found hiding in the back of the home in a locked bedroom and was unhurt, police said.
Police have not determined a motive for the stabbings, but Davis Woo said today that his brother had a long history of mental illness.
When he was one semester away from graduating from the University of California at Berkeley with a degree in landscape architecture in 1989, Peter had his first “episode,” his brother said.
“The best I can describe is, he was catatonic,” Davis Woo said.
In the years that followed, Peter suffered bouts of schizophrenia and depression, but Davis Woo said there were never any incidents of violence toward his parents or siblings.
“There was no pent-up anger for the family,” he said. “The thing we were always worried about was the safety of himself, that was the only thing we worried about.”
He said he hopes the incident spurs more discussion in the Asian community about mental illness, an issue he said many people often try to keep hidden.
“There’s a cultural stigma that comes with openly discussing and understanding mental illness in the Asian community,” he said.
He said he also hopes police take another look at their protocols to see if there are ways to avoid similar incidents in the future.
“I’d like to explore the possibility of how this could have been prevented,” he said. “I do think they followed all the laws, but that doesn’t mean there can’t be issues brought up to change the protocols.”
In February, the San Francisco Police Commission approved a plan to establish a new team within the Police Department to handle crisis situations involving the mentally ill.
Weeks later, the commission approved allowing the department to look into the use of Tasers by its officers after rejecting a similar proposal a year earlier.
However, after he became police chief in April, Greg Suhr said any plans to adopt the use of Tasers would be shelved indefinitely for budgetary reasons.
Funeral services are scheduled for Saturday for Peter and Nina, whom Davis Woo described as “a traditional Asian mom, dedicated to the well-being of her children.”
The service is scheduled for 2 p.m. at the Evergreen Mortuary at 4545 Geary Blvd.
A trust fund is also being established in honor of Nina Woo for the purpose of furthering public education on mental illness, Davis Woo said.
Donations can be made to the “Dennis Woo in Memory of Nina Woo” account at Bank of America. The account number is 0280073897.
Dan McMenamin, Bay City News