The Murder of Master Do

Ten murders and Haitian gangs roil the quiet town of North Miami.

Click here to see a slide show of Master Do and his children.

Shortly after noon on November 10, 2007, Ricky Do surveyed his students at a cluttered, well-worn martial arts studio on West Dixie Highway in North Miami. About 10 lanky, awkward preteens and a handful of middle-age adults performed side and roundhouse kicks, reverse full-twist strikes, and torso punches. Nearly everyone was sweating and panting. As the others tired, Ricky — a handsome 34-year-old — launched into a rigorous routine of calisthenics. Then, just as the class groaned about doing 40 deep knee bends and the same number of situps, a loud noise sliced through the warm air.

Do (right) with Peter Cruz, one of his first students, who is now a North Miami Police sergeant.
Courtesy of the Do family
Do (right) with Peter Cruz, one of his first students, who is now a North Miami Police sergeant.

Boom boom boom boom!

Ricky looked across the room toward his athletic, 27-year-old sister, Kathy, who was helping him teach. They exchanged confused glances. It sounded like gunfire, which was certainly not the norm in this working-class, suburban neighborhood.

Boom boom!

"Everyone down!" Ricky shouted. "Hit the deck!" He walked quickly to the studio's back door, which was open so the fall breeze could waft through the room. Kathy followed closely. At first they saw nothing. Then Kathy gasped. "It's Dad, it's Dad!"

Ricky turned to the left and spotted his father, 62-year-old Young Soo Do, lying on the asphalt about 20 yards away. He was on the ground under a tree near his black 2006 Cadillac STS. Ricky then saw a slim, mustached black man in a white tank top running from the parking lot. He sprinted out the door in pursuit but then stopped cold. Blood was seeping from his father's abdomen.

"Call your mother," Young Soo Do rasped to his son in Korean.

Ricky yelled to his sister to get on the phone ; then he knelt down and gently placed his father's head in his lap. He noticed blood coming from the older man's stomach and several other places; he had been shot four times. Ricky put his hands on the wounds, hoping to stanch the bleeding. He was breathless from confusion; his dad, a ninth-degree black belt, had never seemed so vulnerable. The old man could pull trucks with his teeth, shear off the tops of wine glasses with the edge of his right hand, and break stones with his head. Though he had left Korea in 1975 with only $400 in his pocket, he had built a martial arts empire in South Florida. Now his life was ebbing away on a bright day just a few feet from that empire's heart.

After a minute or so, students streamed from the studio and several dialed 911. They also discovered another man, Leclerc Prosper, lying on the ground and bleeding about 20 feet from Young Soo Do. He had been washing Do's car when the gunman shot him twice in the legs. His pants were covered in thick, scarlet blood. Prosper, a Haitian immigrant who was Young Soo Do's age, had been buffing the Cadillac. Soon ambulance sirens wailed in the distance.

The adult students tried to shield the children in class from the scene; one 11-year-old boy ran next door to the beauty salon where his mother worked as a hairdresser. "It's Master," the boy cried, using the students' respectful nickname for Do. "He's been shot." None of the approximately two dozen people milling about the parking lot wailed or sobbed; instead an eerie, dazed calm took over. Several parents in minivans and SUVs pulled up to collect their children from class and were greeted by cops unrolling ribbons of yellow crime scene tape.

Ricky looked down. His father's eyelids fluttered, and he said softly: "Son, I love you."

Young Soo Do grew up in Seoul, South Korea, the youngest of eight children. His father was a well-known calligraphy professor, and his mother stayed at home. As a child, Do was unnaturally small. Other kids picked on him. So he turned to martial arts for confidence. Soon teachers realized the boy had a gift: He was flexible and fast, a natural fighter.

He attended college for a few years, where he majored in physical education. In 1967, he was deployed to Vietnam to fight alongside American troops.

As one of about 300,000 Koreans involved in that war, Do trained U.S. Special Forces in tae kwon do. He was a marine in Korea's prestigious Blue Dragons Brigade, which was known for ferociousness and cunning. He also saw battle. Do sometimes winnowed his way into foxholes where larger Americans couldn't go and killed Vietnamese with his bare hands. He would later tell his son gruesome stories of combat, such as how he would slice off his victims' ears and thread them like a necklace to show others how many men he had killed.

After three years of active duty, Do returned to Korea. In 1972, he married a local girl, Soon Shin. She was 23 years old, happy, and quiet. He continued practicing tae kwon do — but never in front of his wife. In the early days of their marriage, when he would perform feats of strength, such as breaking bricks with his head or fighting against another martial artist, he shielded his wife. "He thought I'd have a heart attack," says Shin, still shy and now 57 years old.

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