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In Memoriam

A High School Choir Loses a Unifying Voice to a Jealous Ex-Boyfriend with a Gun

The unjust coda of Anna Bui, a young singer who poured herself into sharing the joy that music brought her.

When Anna Bui sang, she sang with her whole body. In a video of her high school’s spring choir concert two years ago, she stands assuredly in the front row, clutching the hands of girls on either side of her. Her petite frame sways earnestly with the melody, her eyes transfixed on the director’s hand signals. She taps a foot in tempo beneath her floor-length purple gown. Fanning out around her, more than 80 voices ebb and swell in a rendition of “The Road Home,” a stirring a capella piece about belonging.

 

When choir alums gathered to sing “The Road Home” in their high school’s parking lot in northwest Washington this past Saturday, a voice was missing. Bui, the girl who never skipped a practice, was not there. Eighteen hours earlier, the 19-year-old college student was one of four teenagers shot, three fatally, at a house in Mukilteo, Washington, a waterside city about 25 miles north of Seattle. The shooter, Allen Ivanov, had dated Bui and attended the same high school as all the victims. He has confessed to targeting Bui because of their recent breakup.

The quadruple shooting has captured national attention because of the victims’ young ages and the shooter’s professed jealousy, but for Kamiak High School’s clan of choral members, Bui’s death has been especially shattering. Bui went through high school singing. Through long hours poring over sheet music and memorizing harmonies by heart, performing for crowds and just for each other, Bui grew close with her fellow singers. The killing has stolen their friend, and muted a vibrant voice.

Bui started out as a freshman in the beginner-level ensemble. Early on, her classmates noticed how deeply she seemed to connect with the music. “Her facial expressions, they always were so raw,” says Melanie Marshall, who sat next to Bui in the alto section their first year. “She would always find, I feel, a deeper meaning with what she was singing.” The choir director, Nancy Duck-Jefferson, noticed it, too. In a statement to KOMO News, she said Bui performed with a “combination of intensity and vulnerability,” that inspired “fellow singers and the audience to feel the wonder of the music.”

 

For Bui, as for many singers, choir was as time-consuming and competitive as any team sport. Between concerts, national anthems, holiday recitals, and statewide competitions, it demanded hours of rehearsal both during and after school. Bui was all in. Friends like Marshall can’t remember a time when she missed a practice or performance. Bui formed close bonds with Mrs. Duck and her other students who called themselves “ducklings.” Marshall says when she wasn’t singing, Bui was eating — snacking endlessly on chocolate, bread, and gummy bears.

Marshall says Bui didn’t reveal much about her home life, but it was clear to her that Bui relied on her choir family. The group of more than 100 students felt like “the best kind of clique,” says Marshall. “Everyone just loved each other, and that’s really important, especially in high school.”

By her junior year in high school, Bui had advanced to the school’s large mixed-voice choir, known as Kantorei, as well the elite all-women’s ensemble, Starry Knight. Bui, a true Pied Piper for the arts, was known for recruiting other students to join choir and making sure underclassmen felt welcome.

When she started dating Allen Ivanov, a tall boy with a dashing muss of brown hair, she convinced him to join choir too, recalls Marshall. “He was definitely not the kind that would have joined on his own,” she says. “I feel like he was really just doing it for her.”

Senior year and after graduation, Marshall says, she and Bui sort of drifted apart. But whenever they’d get together, things snapped right back into place. They’d been making plans to go hiking this past weekend, and Marshall was eager to hear about Bui’s summer trip to Europe. She had posted pictures to Facebook of herself in front of the Eiffel Tower and on a bridge spanning a picturesque canal. “I feel like a whole new person,” Bui had written right after returning from her travels. “Or maybe I’m just better at being myself now.”

Early this summer, Bui and Ivanov, who’d been attending the same university, had broken up. “She was happy and free, and felt like she didn’t need him anymore,” her friend Matt Bettencourt told the Seattle Times. But Ivanov was not ready to let her go.

This past Friday night, Bui went to hang out with a group of high school friends at a house in Mukilteo. While she was there, Ivanov pulled up to the house and peered through a window. He saw Bui with another guy. He returned to the car and allegedly studied the owner’s manual for a newly purchased AR-15 semiautomatic rifle. Just after midnight, authorities say, he crept back to the house, armed with the gun. He found and shot Bui twice, killing her. He also killed two other former classmates, Jordan Ebner and Jake Long. A fourth victim, Will Kramer, survived but is in critical condition.

The shooting marks the fifth mass shooting in the state of Washington this year, using the definition of at least four victims, according to Seattle Times. Last month, a man shot four people in southwest Washington, killing three. And in a shooting two years ago in Marysville, Washington, a 15-year-old shot five other students in the school cafeteria, including his former girlfriend, before turning the gun on himself. The murders of Bui, Ebner, and Long are the first homicides in Mukilteo since 2002, according to a local paper.

State troopers arrested Ivanov early Saturday morning and took him into custody. Police have not said how the 19-year-old procured the gun. In the affidavit, Ivanov confessed to committing the killings out of anger; he was jealous that Bui seemed to be thriving without him. He told police she was his “dream girl.”

While Ivanov awaits trial, Marshall is left to ponder the loss of her friend. She recently recalled a trip the choir took to Vancouver, British Columbia, when she and Bui rode bikes around Stanley Park.

At a fork in the park, the girls went different ways. When they finally found each other, Marshall was so happy to see her friend, she cried.

“Even though we’re separated now,” she says, “hopefully we’ll come back together again.”

[Photo: Facebook]