Stabbing during robbery leaves Lakewood store owner dead; suspect on video still loose

A beloved Lakewood store owner known as “Mama” to her regular customers was stabbed to death Monday night during a robbery.

In Cha Choe, 59, was working alone inside McChord Mart just after 10 p.m. when a man entered the convenience store at 5105 Solberg Dr. SW.

Surveillance video showed her being attacked during a holdup, Lt. Chris Lawler said.

The man first walked around the aisles before choosing an item off a shelf and heading toward the counter.

Choe was found unconscious and suffering from multiple stab wounds.

She was taken to Madigan Army Medical Center, where she was pronounced dead.

Her son, Elijah Choe, said he was working with his mother and usually closed the store, but his mother insisted he leave to grab them dinner.

“You always hear on TV and movies when a character is going through something similar they think they are in a bad dream,” Elijah Choe told KOMO News. “That’s literally how I felt. I need to wake up; it couldn’t be happening in my family.”

A steady flow of customers stopped by the convenience store Tuesday to leave flowers, balloons and handwritten notes outside the store.

“My heart is broken,” said Ruth Reupena. “It’s like a family member passing away. Getting killed like this, it’s not fair.”

Many regulars said Choe was like a mother, cooking for them, offering hugs and big smiles, helping out when a family was in need.

“If I needed something, she was there for me,” said Tiffony Ponder, who said she knew the Choe family for nearly eight years. “She was a great mom, great business owner, great friend.”

The suspect is described as a black man in his 20s or 30s.

He was wearing a black sweatshirt, blue jeans, white shoes and a dark hat under the hooded sweatshirt. The sweatshirt has a “Disobey” logo on the back.

Police are unsure whether the suspect had a vehicle, but he was last seen fleeing on foot north on Bridgeport Way South.

Anyone with information is asked to call the Tacoma-Pierce County Crimestoppers at 800-222-TIPS (8477).

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Stacia Glenn covers crime and breaking news in Pierce County. She started with The News Tribune in 2010. Before that, she spent six years writing about crime in Southern California for another newspaper.