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‘Racial Animus’ Eyed As Potential Motive In Murder Of Christina Lee In NYC's Chinatown

The 35-year-old Asian American creative designer was stabbed more than 40 times, allegedly by 25-year-old Assamad Nash, in her Chinatown apartment on Feb. 13, according to newly-released court filings.

By Dorian Geiger
Christina Yuna Lee Eli Klein Gallery 1

Prosecutors have unveiled new details in a possible hate crime killing of a Korean creative producer who was stabbed dozens of times in her Lower Manhattan apartment over the weekend. 

Christina Yuna Lee, 35, suffered more than 40 stab wounds in the deadly knife attack Sunday morning, according to a newly-filed criminal complaint obtained by Oxygen.com.

Assamad Nash, 25, was arrested in Lee’s apartment after the killing and arraigned on Monday. He’s been charged with first-degree murder, burglary, and sexually motivated burglary. The Manhattan District Attorney’s Office is now investigating whether racial animus or belief also factored into the murder.

On Feb. 13, Lee’s mutilated body was found shortly before 6:00 a.m. in the bathroom of her Chinatown apartment at 111 Chrystie Street. She’d sustained several stab wounds to her neck and torso, and her lungs were punctured in the attack, according to preliminary autopsy results.

Nash was reportedly captured by surveillance cameras following Lee into her Chinatown building after she exited a taxi around 5:00 a.m., and then forcing himself into her apartment.

Neighbors called police after they heard screams coming from Lee’s 6th floor unit. 

The 25-year-old allegedly imitated a woman’s voice in order to deter officers from entering the apartment, prosecutors said. Officers ultimately found him hiding under a bed in Lee's apartment with wounds they believe he sustained during the attack; Lee’s partially nude body was found on the bathroom floor.

Officials declined to comment whether Lee had also been sexually assaulted.

“It’s just unbelievable, it's unreal, it’s surreal, it’s unfathomable — it’s something that will never leave me or leave anyone who knew Christina,” art gallery owner and Lee’s former employer, Eli Klein, told Oxygen.com upon learning the extent of her injuries. “I just can’t believe it."

“Christina was an extraordinarily independent, savvy, street smart, intelligent person," he added. "If this could happen to Christina, this could happen to anyone.”

Klein, 43, owns the Eli Klein Gallery in Manhattan, which showcases a range of contemporary Chinese artwork, and hired Lee more than a decade ago, he said. Lee, whom he described as a protege and close personal friend, was first offered an entry-level position at his gallery in 2010 and, by the time she left in 2014, had risen to become the gallery’s associate director. 

“She was a terrific amazing asset, we both attributed growth in our careers to our relationship,” Klein stated. “We worked together every day for over four years and traveled all over together.” 

He described Lee as a “charming,” “wonderful”, “tremendously capable,” and driven young woman, who could accomplish “anything that she put her mind to.”

“She was just a star,” Klein recalled. “She was a ‘you only live life once’ kind of person. People loved Christina. Nobody that knew Christina can accept this loss. It’s universal devastation.”

Klein said he’s in the early stages of planning a memorial for Lee at his Greenwich Village gallery during a public showing later this month.

Christina Yuna Lee Eli Klein Gallery

At the time of her death, Lee worked as a creative producer for digital music platform Splice. The 35-year-old, who is from New Jersey, attended Rutgers University. 

“Our beloved Christina Lee was senselessly murdered in her home,” Splice said in a statement on Feb. 14. “Always dedicated to making beautiful and inclusive artwork, Christina is irreplaceable. As we start to process this tragedy, we ask you remember Christina Lee as the magical person she was, always filled with joy. We wish peace upon her family in their grief.” 

In recent days, a number of New York’s community leaders, including Mayor Eric Adams and Governor Kathy Hochul rushed to condemn Lee’s killing in the wake of a series of attacks targeting the city’s Asian population.

“I can’t even stomach that she was stabbed 40 times,” Assemblywoman Yuh-Line Niou told Oxygen.com on Tuesday morning. “This is really awful, oh my God.”

Niou, who serves New York’s 65th District (encompassing Chinatown), was brought to tears after learning the graphic nature of Lee’s final moments alive.

“She was all alone and she must have been so scared,” Niou said.

Lee’s murder comes amid a citywide spike in unprovoked and violent attacks targeting Asian citizens. According to the FBI, a similar nationwide uptick in hate crime incidents has been partly attributed to misinformation falsely blaming China for the spread of the COVID-19 pandemic. In New York, a high percentage of individuals arrested for such attacks often suffer from homelessness and mental health problems. 

“We’re angry, sad, horrified, scared, exhausted,” Niou said of Asian American New Yorkers.

Last year alone, hate crimes against Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders more than quadrupled in New York City. In 2021,133 anti-Asian hate crime incidents were logged by police, according to city data obtained by Oxygen.com. Only 30 such complaints were received by the New York City Police Department in 2020.

Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg’s office is also currently prosecuting a record-level 33 hate crime cases involving attacks on Asian Americans.

Nash, who has an extensive arrest record in New Jersey and New York officials said, was awaiting trial on a number of other cases at the time of Lee’s murder.

In December, he was arrested for damaging a Metrocard machine at a midtown Manhattan subway station. Nash, an admitted drug-user, additional court documents allege, had previously been charged in September with selling synthetic marijuana.

Nash hasn’t yet entered a plea on his behalf. The 25-year-old’s next court date is set for Feb. 18. His defense counsel, Michael Gompers, didn’t immediately respond to Oxygen.com’s requests for comment. 

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