Jay Ro and his wife, Ca Na, were in their kitchen early Thursday morning, preparing a traditional Burmese breakfast. He was peeling garlic, she was washing dishes.
Then their 11-year-old son, Htee Ku Moo, walked into the room — with a stranger, holding a gun against the boy's neck.
While attempting to get his son out of danger, Ro, 48, was shot dead by the armed robber, who fled the family's home near N. 30th and W. Cherry streets in Milwaukee.
A language barrier, fear and bad luck converged that day; the family had spent years in a refugee camp in Thailand and were working hard to start a new life in Milwaukee. Police are seeking suspects and a motive for the homicide.
Ca Tri Na, 44, who spoke with composure Friday about the circumstances leading to her husband's death, said she hadn't felt unsafe in her home before Thursday but now she warns everyone to not open the door to strangers.
"We thought, 'We live here, and we don't bother anyone, so no one will bother us,'" Na said through a translator Friday.
The Burmese family — Ro and Na, their four children, ages 5, 7, 9 and 11, and Ro's parents — lived on the city's west side, after arriving in Milwaukee in 2011. They'd spent at least eight years living in a Thai refugee camp, where Ro and Na married in 2002.
Catholic Charities helped them resettle in Milwaukee, assisting with rent and helping secure work. Ro briefly worked at Cargill Meat Solutions in the Menomonee Valley but lost his job when the plant closed last year. He hadn't found employment since. He and his wife spent their time caring for their children and taking English language classes.
Early Thursday, around 6:30 a.m., the couple was making breakfast when the doorbell rang. Three of the children were awake. It was Moo who answered the door.
The strangers were pleasant and told the boy they were repairmen. The 11-year-old let them in.
That's when they stopped being friendly. The men pulled their sweatshirts over their mouths and tightened the hoods.
One man went into the grandparents' first-floor bedroom, rifling for valuables while the elderly couple watched — rendered silent by a language barrier, and fear.
With Ro and Na still unaware of intruders in the home, the other man grabbed Moo, wrapped his arm around the boy's head and pointed a gun to his neck. He dragged Moo through the living and dining rooms and into the kitchen.
The man demanded money. Ro and Na knew what he wanted, but not what to say — at least not in English.
"She got really scared, but she couldn't do anything," said Shu Ma, a translator with Catholic Charities who interpreted for the family Friday.
"She understood him but didn't know how to reply."
Ro moved to grab the stranger's hands and get the weapon off his son's neck. He was at arm's length when the man turned the gun to Ro's chest and fired, Na said.
After the single discharge, both intruders fled the house out of the front door, with Na screaming and chasing behind them.
She said they didn't look back.
Steven Xiong, the family's caseworker and director of refugee resettlement for Catholic Charities, said Ro was a hardworking man who just wanted to provide for his family.
"He was a nice guy, a smiling guy," he said of Ro. "He wanted to be friends with everyone. He had a big family here in Milwaukee, and many friends."
A memorial service for Ro will be held July 4 at St. Michael Parish, 1445 N. 24th St.