When University of Maryland sophomore Elizabeth Meejung Lee arrived at Washington Hospital Center Friday afternoon, doctors had little hope that she would survive through the night. Her former boyfriend, GW junior Ki-Seong Kim, shot her in the head before killing himself in a College Park parking garage.
Lee, 20, has completely lost her vision, and for most of the weekend relied on a breathing tube, but she regained consciousness over the weekend and is expected to recover, her family said Tuesday. Lee’s condition was upgraded from “critical” to “good” Wednesday afternoon and she has begun to talk with her family and friends, said Elizabeth’s aunt, Carolyn Lee.
“After doctors removed the breathing tube, she started to talk,” said Carolyn Lee, one of many family members present at the hospital Tuesday night. “She’s not quite sure where she is or why she’s here, but it’s a good sign that she’s putting words together to make sentences.”
“She may not be quite oriented yet, so we’ll just have to see,” she added.
“She’s strong, that’s why she’s fighting so hard,” said Jennifer Lee, also Elizabeth’s aunt.
Friends and family described Lee as a quiet and gentle woman with an interest in art and classical music. She considered changing her major from business to art history at one point, her friends said.
Carolyn Lee said Elizabeth taught a Sunday school class for kindergarten students at her church, the First Korean Presbyterian Church of Washington in Rockville, Md.
Karen Kyungmi Min, a Maryland sophomore and friend of Lee’s since middle school, said Elizabeth met Kim, 21, while doing community service at church.
“I would always see them a lot together, and they were very happy,” Min said. “They were always laughing nonstop and were always excited to see each other.”
Min said Kim and Lee had a three-year relationship that ended in late March when Lee told Kim she didn’t want to see him anymore.
“At that point, she was really mad and very angered and didn’t want to speak with him,” Min said. “She was upset about it, but she tried not to express it in front of me.”
In the days following the breakup, said Kim would follow Elizabeth between classes and would constantly call her cell phone. Min said Kim had a copy of his ex-girlfriend’s class schedule and would appear unannounced as she walked to and from classes.
Min also said Lee asked her to accompany her to her car out of fear that Kim would be waiting for her in the parking lot.
But after several weeks, Kim ceased this behavior, leading Min to believe he had gotten over the breakup.
“In the beginning, he struggled with the breakup,” Min said. “But after a couple of weeks, (Elizabeth) didn’t mention anything, so I just assumed that everything was OK. She was worried, but only in the beginning.”
Elizabeth’s family members would not comment on the relationship but said members of Kim’s family had visited her in the hospital. They also said that several of her family members attended Kim’s funeral Monday.
Kim’s friends said he seldom talked about his relationship with Lee and didn’t exhibit any signs of emotional anguish in the weeks before the shooting.
“He’s the last person I would’ve ever expected … I would characterize him more as a peacemaker,” sophomore Peter Hersey said.
“He mentioned his girlfriend … we always thought it was in the past,” freshman Samuel Kim said. “He was good about (the breakup), but we had no clue.”
Min said although Kim was angry over the breakup, there was never any indication that he would turn violent.
“That was a big shock … I never knew he would do anything that extreme,” said Min, referring to the shooting. “Ki-Seong was not that type of person.”
Debbie Lee said Elizabeth would be at the hospital for “quite some time” as she begins her recovery.
Carolyn Lee said the family would have to help Elizabeth adjust to her loss of eyesight.
“We kind of have to make a plan with how she’ll cope with that,” she said.
The Lee family has set up a trust fund to pay for Elizabeth’s medical expenses, the Elizabeth Meejung Lee Medical Fund. Those wishing to donate money can send a check, made out to the fund, to any branch of the Chevy Chase Bank.
-Kate Stepan contributed to this report.