Jonah Min Hwang, 8, was killed in a drive-by shooting in Pomona on Feb. 20. (Sandi Hwang Adam)
A man suspected of killing an 8-year-old boy in a drive-by shooting in Pomona has been charged with murder and could face the death penalty, Los Angeles County prosecutors announced this week.
Sengchan Houl was arrested Sunday in connection with the death of Jonah Hwang, who was fatally struck by gunfire while visiting a home with friends and family in Pomona on Feb. 20.
Houl, 35, was charged Tuesday with one count of murder, one count of shooting from a moving vehicle and four counts of shooting into an inhabited dwelling, prosecutors said. He is being held without bail and is scheduled to be arraigned April 26.
If convicted, Houl faces life without parole or possibly the death penalty if prosecutors choose to seek it, officials said
Jonah was with his parents and brother at a family friend’s home for dinner when a gunman pulled up to the residence and opened fire. The boy was struck in the head, according to the Los Angeles County coroner’s office.
A neighbor in the 1100 block of West 11th Street, Justin Armijo, said he heard a car speed off after gunshots.
No one else was injured, police said.
Jonah had been adopted about three years ago from an orphanage in Taiwan, according to a statement released by his parents, Jonny and Karen Hwang.
“He had an infectious smile and loved everyone and everything: sports, wrestling with his dad, running, laughing, superheroes,” his parents said. “Jonah was a light and joy in our household and we cannot imagine our family without him.”
During the investigation police discovered the home where Jonah was killed had been targeted by gunmen three other times this year.
“We believe they’re connected just by evidence that we have collected,” Pomona Police Chief Paul Capraro told reporters Monday. He declined to specify the type of evidence that had been gathered and said that it was still early in the investigation.
“I want the community to know that the members of this Pomona Police Department poured their hearts and souls into solving this crime,” Capraro said. “We’re a long way from getting to the end of things. We’re going to see this through.”
In January, the homeowners found bullet holes in their residence. Drive-by shootings also took place March 7 just before 7 p.m. and March 25 about 7:15 a.m. The house was empty all three times.
After Jonah was killed, Capraro said his department “put resources in place designed to identify and capture the people or the person responsible.” He would not comment on whether surveillance cameras were used but thanked multiple agencies for their help, including the FBI.
The investigation led officers to the vehicle believed to have been used in all four shootings.
Pomona police stopped the driver of that vehicle, identified as Houl, on Sunday as he was leaving his home in an unincorporated area of Pomona.
Capraro said Houl does not appear to have an extensive criminal history, and that the agency will release his photograph after talking to witnesses. Authorities are also trying to determine whether others were involved in the shootings.
Pomona Mayor Tim Sandoval cautioned that every individual has the right to due process, but said the city could rejoice knowing that someone had been arrested.
“Pomona lost a son,” Sandoval said. “We lost a child, Jonah Wang, to a senseless shooting that left our city deeply saddened and pained.… We never lost hope in ultimately finding who committed this heinous crime.”
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Staff writers Corina Knoll and Matt Hamilton contributed to this report.