One of the Upper East Side bodega worker Sueng Chul Choi's regular customers remarked that he seemed a little depressed only hours before he was pistol-whipped and shot to death during a heist last week.
Helen Rambert, 67, a frequent customer at Daona Deli and Grocery on E. 81st St. and Third Ave. He doesn't appear pleased, I thought as I kept staring at him.
Choi, 67, a divorced deli worker, had long been estranged from his ex-wife and children, who lived a thousand miles away in Chicago. March 3, the day he was killed, also happened to be his son’s 40th birthday. And his daughter died of a heart attack last year.
“We normally talk to each other,” Rambert said, “and he didn’t seem to be happy.”
His day only got worse from there.
Police reported that shortly before 7:30 p.m., an armed customer wearing a hooded hazmat suit sauntered in, forced a customer to the ground, and then attacked Choi behind the counter, pistol whipping him until the gun went off.
Police responding to a 911 call reported that the victim had died from a head wound caused by gunfire.
Friends and family of Choi claimed that the devoted deli worker had been concerned about the dangers of the late-night hours.
“He knows it’s a dangerous place to work,” said Choi’s ex-wife Jenny Chon 66. “I think he’s a kind guy who doesn’t change anything. I don’t talk to him much, but every time I talk to him on the phone, maybe once a year, he tells me it’s dangerous.”
Chon, who had been divorced from Choi for 30 years, said she last saw the victim about four years ago, when his 92-year-old father died in Chicago. That’s where much of his family lives.
Choi’s 37-year-old daughter died March 1, 2022 of a heart attack, almost a year to the day that Choi was killed.
Three brothers and a sister still live after Choi. Choi was born in South Korea, where two of the brothers are now residing.
Chon claimed that Choi relocated to Chicago from Seoul in 1978, and the two of them were married in 1979. Prior to continuing his education in Chicago, Choi attended the University of Wisconsin-Madison. He returned to South Korea for a while after their 1991 divorce, she claimed.
Chon stated, "He is an accountant. "He has an accounting degree. A CPA, he is. He's really well educated. After finishing his studies at the university in Korea, he returned to our country and enrolled in college.
Choi stayed in South Korea for a few years and came back to the U.S., this time settling in New York.
“He’s been in New York so many years,” Choi’s sister Amy Hahn, 73, said from her home in Chicago. “Last time I saw him was at my father’s funeral a few years ago.”
Hahn said she couldn’t believe what happened.
“This is unreal. Oh, my goodness,” she said. “He always is sweet to everyone. He was very good to the family, but he lived far.”
Choi’s landlord, Il Nam Baek, 74, said he got the news about Choi’s death from detectives.
“We were very surprised,” Bak said. “We had a good relationship, he was a very nice guy.”