Homeless family of 4 found dead in van in Garden Grove

Listen to story

Download this story 0MB

A couple and their two children, both under the age of 2, were found dead inside a van in a CVS parking lot in Garden Grove. They appear to have died of asphyxiation.

"It looks like it was a tragic accident, at this point," Lt. Carl Whitney of the Garden Grove Police Department said.

On Friday afternoon, the coroner's office confirmed the identity of the adult male as Phunyouphone Kanyavong, a 41-year old from Garden Grove. The identities of the other three victims are taking longer to verify. The investigation is ongoing but detectives don't suspect foul play.

Whitney told KPCC that authorities have been in contact with family members, who confirmed that the family was homeless and living out of their van.

On Thursday night, a homeless woman noticed a strong odor coming from a white Honda van parked at 12031 Brookhurst St., a busy intersection in the center of Garden Grove. Its windows were covered with blankets and a sunscreen.

Garden Grove police officers arrived on the scene shortly after 8:30 p.m. and discovered the four bodies inside the vehicle. 

Lt. Whitney said the children were in their pajamas and the family appeared to be sleeping in the back of the van. The coroner's office is conducting an investigation to determine the cause of death.

Whitney said his police department has two homeless resource officers on staff who could have helped the family if they had been aware of them. According to witnesses and surveillance cameras, the family's van had been parked in the lot for at least a month, and the parents had been in and out to nearby stores and to a nearby recycling center. 

“We had immediate resources that are available for families in this situation," he said. We can go out, offer them services, get them motel rooms."

In fact, more resources are available for homeless families in Orange County than for individuals and couples. But homeless families, like this one, are often overlooked, said Elizabeth Andrade, director of the Family Solutions Collaborative, a group of OC nonprofits working to make it easier for homeless families to access services. 

“They are the hidden homeless population,” Andrade said. 

A count spearheaded last year by Families Forward found about 450 families living on the streets in Orange County, although Andrade says there may be many more.

She said some families fear that their children will be taken away if they seek help. Andrade said that's a false fear.

 "As long as the children are in school and being taken care of and there's no signs of neglect or abuse, then their children will not be taken from their custody," she said.

Andrade also said the complicated support network for families can be difficult to navigate, especially for families already in stressful situations. Her group hopes to remedy that by creating a "one-stop shop" for homeless families. The group also hopes to expand the number of places where families can make initial contact to get help. 

Editor's note: A previous version of this story incorrectly reported the address of the incident as 1203 Brookhurst St.