VIRGINIA BEACH, Va. - Ellie Mizon Tran's oldest sister, Phi Tran, is in America helping her family get their affairs in order. That's when she discovered a journal where Ellie documented her hardships.
"She just wrote her feelings down - that was her only release. Ellie shared her happy moments and lust for life. But her hardships, all the heartbreak, everything sad she wrote in that journal," said Phi.
Police say 35-year-old Ellie was assaulted in her driveway in Virginia Beach on Valentine's Day. Ellie was taken to a hospital where she later died. 29-year-old Joseph Vincent Merlino III, has been charged with second-degree murder in connection with Ellie's death.
Phi tells News 3's Kim Cung the journal illustrated Ellie's struggles with Merlino and his controlling nature. But what tugged at her heart most was her sister went through that and the hardship of starting a new life in America alone.
"When I read her journal...I felt guilty that I couldn't read my little sister," said Phi.
But with that sadness also came respect and admiration for the strong, independent woman Ellie was. Phi said Ellie is the youngest in the family and has never lived far from family until she immigrated to America in search of a better life.
"If it was any other person, or even me in her shoes, I couldn't do what she's done. Come to a new country, get multiple jobs, start a new life, buy a house...but my sister did it. And that makes me so proud," said Phi.
Shortly after Ellie settled in America, she sponsored her elderly parents to join her. Phi said it was overwhelming going through the bills and seeing how much Ellie had on her shoulders. Yet it makes her realize one thing about her sister.
"Ellie is the strongest person I knew," said Phi.
As Phi looks toward the future, she wants to thank all the people who have come together to help her family.
"Her friends, coworkers, the Buddhist temple, the local church, even people who didn't even know her...in Virginia and across the country, they all shared the burden of mourning her death with my parents. For that, I'm forever thankful," said Phi.
Phi said she is staying in America until Merlino's next court date. She said she's extremely grateful to the Embassy for allowing her to come to America on such short notice to make it to her sister's funeral and allow her to stay until she's ready to leave.