Las Vegas Sun

October 21, 2020

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Las Vegas family reels after tragedy strikes twice

Family Remembers Eric Tia

Steve Marcus

Aina Tia remembers her oldest son Eric Ropeti Tia during an interview in their apartment Wednesday, Aug. 26, 2020. Tia, 24, was fatally stabbed at an illegal pool party on July 22. Oldest daughter Royceemily Maiava, 26, speaks at left.

Family Remembers Eric Tia

An undated family photo is shown on the wall in the Tia family apartment Wednesday, Aug. 26, 2020. Eric Tia, the oldest son, was fatally stabbed at an illegal pool party on July 22. His father Elika Tia died 10 days later due to a heart condition. Launch slideshow »

Eric Tia wasn’t the type to skip out on taking his father to his doctor appointments. It was one of the many responsibilities he embraced.

The 24-year-old was the only member of his large family who worked and was determined to get them out of their tiny east Las Vegas apartment and into their first house.

When he was nowhere to be found on July 22 to take his dad to University Medical Center for a checkup with the cardiologist, his family sensed something was wrong.

That feeling was confirmed in a social media message.

Royceemily Maiava woke up to an ominous Instagram message about Tia, her brother. It was so cruel that she initially believed someone was playing a prank about a stabbing at an illegal Las Vegas mansion party: “He’s just letting me know that my brother passed away in his arms,” she said the message from a stranger read.

Maiava immediately contacted her father, Elika Tauinaola Tia, who had made his way to UMC and waited to see the doctor. Something wasn’t right, she told him, but she was actively trying to find her brother’s whereabouts.

Turned out he was taken to UMC a few hours earlier, where he died from his injuries.

It wasn’t the only death the family — including eight surviving siblings — has had to endure recently. The elder Tia died less than two weeks later from heart failure, or as the family says, from a broken heart from losing his son.

Right after the elder Tia saw his son’s body, “he was changed right after that,” Maiava said. 

From their crowded, three-bedroom apartment on Wednesday, the family spoke about their loss and the fond memories of their beloved brother and father. They shed tears as they sat in chairs in the otherwise empty living room, its walls plastered with family photos of happier times.

Eric Tia was killed at a pool party attended by nearly 250 people in a short-term rental at 4813 Richmar Avenue. Metro Police later arrested Maurice Avery Lopez II on a murder count, but Las Vegas Justice Court logs show that the case was dismissed Aug. 19. 

Lopez, 33, is serving a monthslong jail sentence at the Clark County Detention Center for a 2017 theft case, in which his probation was revoked after the incident at the party. Neither Lopez’s attorney nor the Clark County District Attorney’s Office could be reached for comment.  

Tia’s killing was the third in less than a month at parties hosted at short-term rental homes, in what Metro calls an uptick in violence at such events, including “at least 15 shootings at such gatherings in the past few months.”

The house where Tia was stabbed multiple times is located in unincorporated Clark County, meaning its owner is not allowed to post it on short-term rental sites. 

Father's decline

The possibility that the social media message wasn’t a joke began to dissipate when Maiava, who lives in Utah, began searching online. Video from a news report about the killing showed a car she thought looked like the one belonging to her family. 

She then called multiple hospitals and police stations until she got a hold of Metro detectives who confirmed her biggest fear: Her brother was dead. 

Days later, the elder Tia took his younger children to play basketball, which was an activity Eric Tia always coordinated. But they couldn’t find a hoop with rims — the county took rims off hoops to prevent court usage during the pandemic — and headed home.

The disappointment of losing his son was magnified because Eric always found activities to keep his younger siblings occupied. As Tia was talking about how much he missed his son, his heart failed and he hit the ground outside the family apartment, Maiava said. 

The family thought he would be back home and even be able to attend his son’s funeral. The day after the burial, wife Aina Tia and Maiava visited him in the hospital. Over the phone from the other side of a hospital room window, Aina told her husband the funeral had gone well but that he needed to recover because his family was waiting for him at home.

The hospital machines began to light up and beep incessantly seconds later, and the women were ordered to leave. Tia was dead a couple hours later. That day, the family saw a news report that said Eric Tia’s alleged killer had been caught. 

Stabbing at party

Before her younger brother took the role of head of household, Maiava was in charge of the finances. After she married, her father persuaded her to move on and let Eric step up. So, Maiava moved to West Jordan, Utah, in late December, where she lives with her husband and 1-year-old son. 

With his part-time job at Amazon, Eric Tia was gracious with the added responsibilities but always leaned on his older sister for advice.

Standing at 6 feet, 4 inches, he was a gym rat and an avid basketball player. In the little free time he had, he liked to go out. His parents and sister had grown overprotective, and he always told them where he was going. 

But on the night of his death, he kept it to himself. Perhaps because he didn’t want to hear a sermon from his sister or didn’t want to worry his father. An aspiring up-and-coming R&B artist, Eric Tia had been invited to perform at a large party, an opportunity he couldn’t pass on if he wanted the world to hear his music. 

His sister would’ve advised him not to attend the party. But his father would have been front and center because he was a prominent Island musician back home in America Samoa and raised his children to appreciate music.

The family is still trying to find out what happened at the party. The friend who accompanied Tia to the gathering, the same one who messaged Maiava, told the family and police that he stepped away to grab drinks. 

As he was walking away, he heard someone shout his friend’s name. He looked back to see that Eric was also trying to find out where the voice was coming from. 

Seconds later, he realized a fight had broken out. He approached Tia and realized his friend had been stabbed. He took off his T-shirt and pressed it against the wounds. Tia was declared dead at UMC.  

Childhood memories

Maiava hasn’t mustered the strength to watch the video — probably never will. 

The family received a blurry clip that appears to show her brother’s stabbing. There’s commotion and then at least a couple voices can be heard narrating, “He got stabbed ... he’s bleeding ... he’s about to pass out ... call 911.” 

A person, presumably Eric Tia, is seen stumbling before a group gathers around him. 

The Tias hail from Samoa, where the patriarch of the family worked at a tuna factory making about $3 an hour. Maiava remembers a modest but happy childhood. Her brother was only one year younger than her, so they grew up together. She remembers how they would walk to school when they were kids, and would see their father at the city center, where the bus would drop him off after 12-hour shifts. 

He always had one large M&M he would split in half to give each child. He would take them to school and give them 50 cents each for lunch. 

“That’s what we always remembered: my dad, and him, because he’d get so excited,” Maiava said.

The family moved to Utah in 2007, then California, where they lived until they relocated to Las Vegas in 2016, when Eric Tia was serving a two-year mission with The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. He caught up with them here a year later.

“It’s quiet now, I mean both of them ... my dad was the man of the house, when he was not here, Eric was. And now both of them are gone,” Maiava said. 

Aina Tia said her son would constantly tease his parents and siblings all the time but also offered to take them out from their packed apartment to lunch or for a ride. 

“I miss them so ...” Aina Tia said, broken English words trailing and tears falling. “Everything, I cannot explain, I love my son and my husband.”

Danny Tia, 21, who was on his own church mission when his brother and father died, remembers how his brother took him everywhere and how they played basketball almost every day. They worked together at a chocolate factory and at Amazon.

“I kind of saw it happen,” he said about his ailing father facing death. “And I was kind of prepared for it, but when I found out, it was extremely hard, because my brother was gone and my dad was gone.”

Maiava spoke to her brother the day of his death. He adored his nephew and was eager to be an uncle for the second time. That morning, Maiava got a sonogram and told her brother she would unveil the gender the next morning.

Eric told her he knew it’s a boy and that he just knew it. 

“Whatever, we don’t know that, but you’ll see tomorrow when I post it (to social media),” she told her brother. 

Eric was right: The baby is a boy.

The Tia family has organized a GoFundMe campaign to raise money for expenses.