This was written by Marc Joyal-Myers and are his opinions and not that of the website.
On April 4th, 1998, Robert Joyal was stabbed to death in a Denny’s parking light. By some accounts,dozens of people stood within feet of my brother as he lost his life, yet only 2 people every came forward to say they saw what happened. Both accounts were later discredited.
Rob spent the first 9 years of his life on Cape Cod. My father had received a big job offer, so we moved from Massachusetts to a suburb outside the city of Houston, Texas called Clear Lake. We lived there for almost 9 years. We were a typical Houston family in most ways. Robert joined the football team and found success. He was shorter than his teammates, but made up for it with his grit and determination. By high school, but was moving up the depth chart as a Running Back. During the summers, we would go back to Cape Cod to visit our extended family. Rob usually went to horseback riding camp, spent time with his friends from his childhood, and visited with our Grandparents who were gracious enough to let us stay with them every summer. For someone who didn’t attend school there anymore, he always seemed to have friends. While he was an incredible horse back rider, I wouldn’t be surprised if his biggest motivation for going to camp was to see Natalie, his childhood sweetheart. Rob was talented when it came to sports, but he wasn’t your typical jock. His biggest passion seemed to be making people smile. He was a goofball. My favorite memory of his camp days was during the parents/family weekend where the campers got to show off their summer digs to their closest relatives. During the talent show, Rob and Natalie lip synced “Under the Bridge” by the Red Hot Chilli Peppers. I still have the tennis racket Rob used as a guitar.
Robert struggled to balance high school and life, and his grades began to slip around his sophomore year. Once his football coaches caught on, Rob was taken off the football squad and told to get his grades up. Football had been incredibly important to Rob’s life, and without it, he struggled to find his purpose. Post-football, Rob maintained many of his friendships, but found himself getting in more and more trouble. My parents took stock: Rob was now headed to his senior year of high school and I was about to enter middle school. We made the decision to remove ourselves from Texas and relocate to somewhere that offered a much different experience.
Gorham, Maine was supposed to be our sanctuary: a quaint postcard-esque town with a nice new High School and a great reputation. We thought we had escaped the gangs and drugs that seeped into the suburbs of Houston. Gorham was a small, clicky high school. Rob went from a school of 3,000 kids to a school of 800. Rob met a girl, Monique Gaudet, who introduced him to her friend, Tahnia Harriman, and her boyfriend, Michael Atienza. With his new friends in tow, Rob navigated his senior year in a new school. He seemed to have a hard time making friends. It had always come so easily when he played football. We learned later, Mike, Monique and Tahnia were far from real friends.
April 3rd was the last full day of Rob’s life. It was also one of the most hopeful days he had in Maine. My father and Rob had picked out a used vehicle for Rob to drive. It was also the same day Rob got his first apartment in Portland with his friend Andre Mackay. Robert had turned 18 and it felt like Rob was finding his footing. Rob had made it through a tough start and was putting together some positive moves. Earlier that day, Rob played basketball with me for hours, just to make sure I knew how much I meant to him. Even on his big day, he made sure I knew I was a part of it. My mom bought several bags of groceries for Rob, and my dad made sure to give Rob a pep talk before he left our driveway. I even gave Rob the hat he kept trying to steal from me (my hat fit him better, but I was a little brother after all, so I wouldn’t let him have it until that day) We watched him drive away with plenty enough hope and happiness to go around.
That night, Rob and his friends decided to celebrate. He dropped off his car and belongings at his new apartment and set out with his friends to the Metropolis, a popular under-21 club in the heart of Portland. This is where we believe the stage was set for what was to come. While at the club, witnesses say that Rob and had possibly exchanged words with some other teens. It was bad enough that his girlfriend, Monique, suggested that they needed to leave as she had heard the other group was looking to fight. Rob and his friends hopped into a van and drove to Denny’s, another popular late night stop. When they arrived, Atienza exited the vehicle and was met by Phongphack Thanephonesy (P.T.), Rob waited in the van as the two sorted out their beef. Suddenly, someone from behind PT lunged forward and punched Atienza, who dropped to the ground and slid under the van. Rob and the other passengers exited the vehicle to help, only to find themselves surrounded by, depending who you ask, anywhere from 35-60 people. Rob and his friends had been set up and ambushed. This was not a brawl; this was an unfair fight. Most of Rob’s friends scattered, some even running away from the scene. Rob was trapped, fighting off several people. He found himself fighting Kevin Janosco. Rob hovered over top, throwing punches and scrapping. Kevin lifted Rob’s shirt, exposing his back side and immobilizing Rob. As the sound of sirens neared, someone yelled “5-0!” and the parking lot dispersed. Robert lay on the ground, having been stabbed 3 times. Robert had lost too much blood to recover. Rob died in the parking lot as the police arrived.
We don’t know exactly what happened. Neither do the police. What we do know is that this was premeditated. Many vehicles from Lowell, MA filled with members of the Asian street gang called T.R.G.as well as at least 3 vehicles from Portland were waiting at Denny’s armed with knives, machetes and other weapons. Robert and his friends numbered under 8 and they had no weapons.He and his friends clearly had no idea what awaited.
Rob’s murder was a huge story; Portland didn’t believe it had a gang problem, and Gorham was shook after losing one of its students. The police were desperate to make a quick arrest in a high profile homicide, and after a 15 year old Deering High student, Seiha Srey, told his 14 year old girlfriend, Nichole Glover, that he was responsible, they pounced. Seiha was arrested for Rob’s murder. We learned that Seiha had gone to the Metropolis with his friend, Sam Kim, the younger brother of two known gang members, Vouen and Souen Kim. Seiha is believed to have fled Denny’s with Vouen and Souen. They allegedly hid out at “the fat lady’s house” a location that was never discovered by police. In court, Tana Ork, who was with the Kims and Srey that night, claimed Vouen and Souen had a good laugh over the fact ‘some kid got sliced.’
During the pre-trials, many of the witnesses, including the Kim brothers, pled their Fifth Amendment rights. The local cutthroat, and expensive, defense attorney Dan Lilley shredded the prosecutions accusations, and was able to have the trial dropped due to a lack of evidence. Seiha was free, the Kim brothers were still on the streets, and the Police pledged to continue searching for answers. But they didn’t.
Since then, Seiha has been killed in a gang related drug deal, the Kim brothers went on to commit other crimes, Dan Lilley got busted for cocaine possession, the lead detective on Rob’s case retired, and we have been told that Rob’s case is too low on the “solvability scale” to actively pursue. We have asked the police for help, but have been disappointed time and time again with their lack of urgency. The new detectives who have been given Rob’s case to work don’t seem to care enough to go knock on doors or to review evidence. They even told us “we have 5 binders full of info on your brother’s case and haven’t had a chance to take a look” Rob was killed 20 years ago. They were given the case a year ago. They have had plenty of time. We were also told that because the police who worked the case in the beginning believed Seiha did it, that they too were convinced. The only problem is that there isn’t any evidence to collaborate the initial account, and there are several other accounts, that are just as credible, that don’t show Seiha as the killer.
Robert was an incredible human being whose life was taken much too soon. 18 year olds make mistakes all the time. It shouldn’t be their last. Robert believed in fairness in all things. He was impetuous and passionate. He loved to make people laugh and always looked out for the underdog. Rob loved completely. He would have fought like hell to find out what happened if this had been his friend or brother or anyone else in his life. We’re asking for your help in finding his killer.