Paul Park was sitting in his room at Estrella del Mar Beach Resort, site of last week’s PGA Tour Latinoamerica stop in Mazatlán, Mexico, and talking to a friend over the phone when his surroundings suddenly illuminated.
So, Park sprang up, raced to his balcony, and gazed out over the Pacific Ocean.
“I was met with the most beautiful sunset I’ve ever seen in my whole life,” Park said.
Wanting to get a closer look, Park headed down to the beach, where a large group was quickly gathering to soak in the scene. The dozens of photos and video he took that Sunday evening, Park says, don’t do the view justice. It was one of those you-had-to-be-there moments.
“The water, the sand, our whole faces, everything was just glowing hues of orange and red,” Park described. “It was just breathtaking, almost to the point where I was like, ‘What does this mean?’ It was just that beautiful.
“Looking back, that was her. … I truly believe that was Christina.”
PARK CALLS CHRISTINA YUNA LEE his older sister, or in Korean, his noona. No, they are not related by blood, but they might as well be. Their moms were childhood friends and have remained close as adults, each having two kids – Park has an older brother, Peter; Lee a younger sister, Angela – and living in the same area just outside of Newark, New Jersey.
The Parks and the Lees celebrate holidays together. They vacation together. They do everything together.
They are one family, and Christina, a skilled creative but also keen communicator, was the glue.
“She just had that innate ability to bring people together and put a smile on their face,” Park said.
But that wasn’t all. Lee was a Jill of all trades, successful in her career as a producer in New York City but equally as accomplished in her personal life. She was an artist, philanthropist, dancer (especially cartwheels), and chef. Her laugh was infectious, her kindness captivating. In simpler terms, she stood out.
No wonder while most of the family were donning fall colors last Thanksgiving, Lee showed up wearing bright yellow.
Park fondly recalls that afternoon: Lee putting the finishing touches on a hearty meal; Park joining her in the kitchen, nursing a glass of wine. Lee offered Park a spoonful of her famous collard greens, to see if she had gotten the seasoning right. She had, though Park reckoned the collards needed to cook a little longer. Lee agreed. The dish came out perfect.
More recently – just weeks ago, in fact – Park was chatting with Lee over the phone about a potential romantic partner. Life conversations like that weren’t uncommon between the two; Lee was as much a mentor as she was a big sister.
“I’d always reach out to her for her perspective because she’s such a powerful and intelligent woman who had ownership of herself, and she always seemed to have the right answers,” Park said. “She knew so much about love, and she was giving me this advice: Take a leap of faith and listen to your heart.”
That would be their last conversation.
Lee, 35, was killed on Feb. 13 after police say a homeless man with a lengthy criminal record followed her into her New York City apartment and stabbed her 40 times with a kitchen knife. Surveillance video showed the man lurking behind Lee as she walked into the building on Chrystie Street in Chinatown and up to her sixth-story residence just before 4:30 a.m. ET. Neighbors reported hearing screams, and police arrived to find the man barricaded in Lee’s apartment and Lee’s body in her bathtub.
Christina Yuna Lee was pronounced dead at 5:55 a.m. The man has since been charged with her murder.
New York City Mayor Eric Adams, whose city has seen several attacks against women, including Asian-Americans, in recent months, called Lee’s death “horrific.”
“I and New Yorkers across the city mourn for the innocent woman murdered in her home last night in Chinatown, and stand with our Asian brothers and sisters today,” Adams said in an official statement the day after Lee’s death. “While the suspect who committed this heinous act is now in custody, the conditions that created him remain. The mission of this administration is clear: We won’t let this violence go unchecked.”
Added Yuh-Line Niou, an assemblywoman who represents the district: “This has happened so many times, and we have attended too many vigils.”
Lee, a 2008 graduate of Rutgers with a degree in art history, had moved to Lower Manhattan last year and was working as a senior creative producer for Splice, a digital music platform. According to her LinkedIn, she also had worked with companies such as Google, Toms and Cole Haan.
“Our hearts our broken,” Splice posted on social media. “Always dedicated to making beautiful and inclusive artwork, Christina is irreplaceable. As we start to process this tragedy, we ask that you remember Christina Lee as the magical person she was, always filled with joy. We wish peace upon her family in their grief.”
JUST HOURS AFTER THAT STUNNING sunset, Park’s world was turned upside down.
The sun hadn’t even come back up yet, and here Park was, more than 26,000 miles from home and trying to process his sister’s tragic death. Just days away from his first world-ranked tournament in nearly eight months, Park couldn’t even think about golf, instead remaining holed up in his hotel room, bouncing between phone calls with family and browsing flights back home to Wayne, New Jersey.
“I was having a tough time,” Park said. “I was in a state of shock. I didn’t know how to react or really what to do.”
Back in 2014, Park, who played collegiately at Indiana (where he was also valedictorian) before turning pro in 2011, quit professional golf and moved to Los Angeles for a job in finance, specifically investment banking and pension consultation. Lee was living there at the time, too, working for Toms, and during their two years together as West Coasters, Lee introduced Park to yoga and meditation. Lee had grown passionate about spiritual healing in her 20s, and through that she helped Park draw out his inner passion.
By the end of 2016, Park had moved to Palm Beach Gardens, Florida, and begun the second act of his pro golf career.
“She knew how important golf was for me,” Park said. “She was one of my biggest cheerleaders.”
But with Lee now gone, who could Park lean on for guidance? After a few hours, and still having not booked a return flight, Park walked down to the beach, the same one where he had experienced such joy the evening before. Again, he stared out over the water, looking straight into the horizon – and that’s when he began to feel Lee’s presence. So, he started talking.
After somewhat of a clairvoyant moment, Park reached his decision: He was going to stay and play the tournament, for Christina.
“That’s what she would have wanted,” Park said. “Whether I headed back home that day, or the next week, or the next month, regardless of where I am, she’s always going to be here with me. That was what allowed me to stay.”
Park quietly snuck in nine holes of practice on Monday afternoon, and the next day he began his weekly preparation as normal, a nod to Lee, who didn’t know much about golf, but still used to advise her little brother to pour his heart into the process rather than stress about the result. Park didn’t tell anyone on site about Lee’s death until Wednesday – “I just wasn’t ready to talk about it,” he said – but when he did share the devastating news, Park was overwhelmed by the love and support he received from fellow competitors, tournament officials and resort employees.
Before Thursday’s opening round, Estrella del Mar’s director of golf, Jorge Correa, and his staff helped Park make light-purple ribbons so that players and caddies could wear them on their hats in honor of Lee and other victims of violence against women.
And back at the beach, Park drew a heart with the initials “C.L.” in the sand.
“Just doing whatever I could to honor her because I was so far away from home,” Park said.
With every hole he played last week, Park would look up into the sky and think about his noona. When he’d hit a good shot, he could picture Lee smiling. When he’d miss a putt, he’d ask her for a little assistance.
Christina, you couldn’t help me out on that green?
He’d then hear back: You don’t need my help. You’re amazing. Just keep doing you and everything will fall in place.
“I don’t consider myself super religious,” Park says now, “but it still feels like she’s with me here, and she’s not gone. I see her face, I see her smile, I hear her laugh, I’m constantly talking to her, and it’s been helping me.”
Park shot 71-71, logged 10 three-putts in 36 holes and missed the cut by two shots. And none of that mattered.
“I knew she would be proud,” he said.
LEE’S FUNERAL SERVICE TOOK PLACE last Friday, the same day as Park's second round in Mexico, at St. Michael's Catholic Church in Palisades Park, New Jersey. Originally, the family wished to keep the private ceremony intimate, but that was before more than 300 people showed up to pay their respects.
“So many people loved her,” Park said. “She brought together friends and family, but also people who had only met her for 5 minutes.”
Park figured he’d known everything there was to know about his beloved noona, until he started hearing the heartwarming stories about Lee. One that stood out was how Lee made continual donations to the Prospect Park Alliance, which employs staff to maintain the Brooklyn park, one of Lee’s favorite meditation spots. The family plans to plant a tree and dedicate a bench at the park in Lee’s memory on April 20, after the 49-day Buddhist mourning period, also known as the intermediate state or bardo, is over.
Lee made countless donations to other causes, too, including Womankind, which serves survivors of domestic violence, human trafficking and sexual violence of all ages, and SafeWalks, which matches New Yorkers who feel unsafe while commuting within the city with travel companions.
“I have a hard time just juggling playing golf professionally,” Park said, “but she just did so much for her family, her friends, people she didn’t know, all these organizations. She was a supporter of everyone.”
Added Lee’s sister, Angela: “She went above and beyond to make those she loved know she was there for them, never expecting anything in return.”
To further honor Lee, Lee's family created the “Christina Yuna Lee Memorial Fund” to raise money for the many causes that Lee was passionate about. Within 24 hours of starting a GoFundMe page for the fund, they had surpassed their initial goal of $100,000 in donations. As of Tuesday night, the fund had received just over a half-million dollars.
Even in the aftermath of senseless tragedy, Lee's family had found the strength to give back.
“If you were to meet Christina, you were the most important thing in the room when you were talking. Whatever the topic was, she always had follow-up questions, and she just had your full, undivided attention,” Park said. “She just radiated so much positivity. She was such a loving and giving person, and just an incredible human being that left such a big impact on this world for the better. It motivates me, it motivates others to carry out our lives in a manner that she would want us to honor her, in the way we treat people and the way we act and contribute to humanity.
“While we can’t bring her back, we have this mission to make the world a better place in her name.”
As for his golf, Park holds conditional status for PGA Tour Latinoamerica and expects to get in several events on his number. With the tour taking a break until late March, Park is entered in PGA Tour Canada Q-School on March 8-11 in Dothan, Alabama. He’s played up north before, losing his card three years ago before a serious back injury sidelined him for over a year. He also has started his own company. In what began with a prototype phone holder to film his golf swing and some ideas written on an airplane barf bag, GPod Golf officially launched last July.
He’s approaching it all with the same zeal that Lee would.
“I want to honor her memory and legacy in the way I carry out my life to the fullest,” Park said. “Whether I’m playing golf or not, making sure that I give my 110% and make her proud. Just the way I treat people. The way I grow into the man that I know she’d want me to grow into. My passion is golf, and it’s a great platform, should I succeed, to spread more awareness and to promote this positive change. … That is more motivation for that, but whether I do make it in golf or not, as long as I give it my all, I’m OK with that, regardless of the result.”
And should he need a reminder, all he needs to do is look up.
Hopefully, that view also comes with a beautiful sunset.
To donate to the "Christina Yuna Lee Memorial Fund," click here.