The Upper Makefield mother accused of shooting her two children was in a long custody court battle in Missouri, after accusing her first husband of intentionally keeping her oldest son away from her for years after their divorce.
The revelation that Trinh Nguyen was previously involved in a child custody fight comes as court documents filed in Bucks County recently by her most recent ex-husband has expressed similar concerns that she would flee with their child.
Nguyen is incarcerated in Bucks County without bail accused of shooting her sons, Nelson, 9, and Jeffery, “JT”, 13, in the head while they slept on Monday morning, a crime that has stunned the quiet, upscale community where they lived on Timber Ridge Road.
The boys’ conditions remain unchanged since Monday. They remain on life support and are not expected to survive. Authorities said the family plans to donate their organs.
District Attorney Matt Weintraub has not release a motive in the shooting. Court record confirmed Nguyen was scheduled to be evicted from her Upper Makefield home on May 3, and she was in a custody dispute involving her youngest child.
Earlier this year, Edward Tini filed a petition in Bucks County court to prevent his ex-wife from taking Nelson to her native Vietnam, alleging that she was a “classic flight risk.” A court hearing on the matter was pending when the shooting occurred.
The couple previously agreed to the overseas vacation every other year for five weeks during the summer starting this year, according to the terms of their divorce settlement.
In court documents, Nguyen said that her ex-husband had not given her permission to get a passport for their son.
Tini feared that Nguyen would refuse to return to the U.S. He cited a 2015 incident before they were married where he said that Nguyen took their then-3-year-old son to Texas and threatened not to return, according to documents filed in Bucks County Court.
The incident resulted in a court order that awarded the couple shared custody of the boy.
“Father thinks Mother … presents as a classic parent kidnapper,” according to a custody conference officer report.
The custody officer noted in his report that Nguyen was “insulted” at Tini’s allegations and denied any intentions of moving to Vietnam.
Attorneys who represented Nguyen and Tini in the divorce declined comment earlier this week. Nguyen was representing herself in the custody matters, and the attorney representing Tini declined comment.
The third son and Trinh Nguyen’s fight for contact
Tini’s fears about his ex-wife taking their child mirror those that Nguyen expressed during a near three -year custody battle in Missouri with her first husband, Scott Dinh, over their oldest child, who is also the biological brother of Jeffrey.
This news organization is identifying the oldest son by his initials MND because he is 17. As of 2018 he was living in Portland, Oregon with his father, according to court documents.
Attempts to reach Dinh were unsuccessful. Phone numbers associated with his name were disconnected and emails were returned as undeliverable.
The Missouri court records show that as part of their final divorce settlement in 2009, a New Jersey judge awarded Dinh primary physical custody of MND. Nguyen was awarded primary physical custody of Jeffery, who was born in 2008.
The New Jersey order granted both Nguyen and her ex-husband “liberal and reasonable” visitation rights to the sons, but in 2015 and 2016 Nguyen claimed Dinh attempted to keep her away from their oldest child, denied her visitation and cut off communications with her, according to court records in Missouri.
Nguyen said, in court filings, she had no contact with her son for two years because his father had moved without notifying her to Michigan, Saigon, Vietnam and Oregon before settling in Missouri in 2014.
The same day Dinh registered the New Jersey judgment with the county court system Nguyen filed a motion to change it, records show. In December 2015, a Missouri judge modified the original order awarding joint legal custody of MND to both parents and Dinh got sole physical custody of the child, records show.
The next year MND visited his mother at the Upper Makefield home where she lived with Jeffery, Nelson, and her new husband during his summer vacation. During the visit her son told Nguyen his father planned to move again, though he did know where, according to court documents.
In late August, after he returned to Missouri, Nguyen claimed her son told her during a phone call that he and his father had moved to Oregon, though he didn’t say where in the state, court documents said. She called the Cape Girardeau School District and confirmed that her son had been withdrawn.
Court documents allege Dinh repeatedly failed to provide the court and his ex-wife at least 60-days written notice before the proposed relocation as required in the 2015 modified custody order. He also failed to provide a forwarding address, phone number or dates when he moved or why or a proposed revised schedule of visitation or custody, another violation. Nguyen also claimed her ex cut off communication with her son after he told her about the move.
In later court testimony, Dinh would claim that Nguyen could easily track where their son was living because she provided him with a cellphone and computer tablet.
A judge found his point moot. though, because Dinh still had a legal responsibility to provide a current address “at all times.” But he also found Nguyen’s testimony that she didn’t know where her son was living or how to locate him “not credible.”
Trinh Nguyen awarded custody of oldest son, father cut off
In September 2016, Nguyen filed a motion in Missouri to prevent the relocation, alleging the move was not in good faith and was done “for the purpose of denying her visitation,” according to court documents.
Dinh did not attend a December 2016 hearing on the request and Nguyen claimed that she had no address to have him send notice of it, so notice was published in a newspaper.
After hearing Nguyen’s testimony the Cape Girardeau Common Pleas Judge Benjamin Lewis modified the 2015 custody order preventing the relocation and awarded Nguyen sole legal and physical custody of MND. The judge also denied Dinh visitation with his son “because the evidence established that he would surely keep (MND) from the mother if he had an opportunity to do so,” the order said.
The 2016 order noted that Nguyen would be able to provide a better home environment for her oldest son as her home is “more stable, which will better allow for adjustment to home, school and community.”
Shortly after the new order was entered, Nguyen located MND in Oregon and took him back to Pennsylvania with her for the Christmas holidays, the order said.
But the reunion did not go well, according to Diane C. Howard, a family law attorney in Cape Girardeau Missouri, who represented Nguyen in the custody case. After the holidays, Nguyen agreed to let her son return to his father in Oregon
Sometime in January 2017, a few weeks after the judgment giving Nguyen sole physical and legal custody was entered, Dinh found out about it, hired a lawyer and filed a motion to have it thrown out. Four months later, the couple agreed to set aside the 2016 order and return to the previous one with shared custody and physical custody for Dinh.
Father cuts off visits with mother, she takes him to court again
After the order was rescinded, though, Dinh refused to let their son visit Nguyen, though it was ordered in the 2015 judgment, according to court documents.
In 2018, the couple returned to a Missouri courtroom after Nguyen filed another petition to prevent her ex-husband from relocating with their son in the future.
This time, while Judge Lewis found that Dinh repeatedly violated the original custody order by cutting off communication with their son and refusing visitation — actions the judge said justified granting Nguyen the physical and legal custody she sought — it was not in her son’s “best interests.”
“Father has proven that he prefers to deny the mother a meaningful relationship with (MND),” Lewis said. “The mother asserts that the court should now deny the father a meaningful relationship with (MND) in retribution for the father’s past behavior and to avoid the father denying the mother custody in the future.”
Lewis noted that MND was nearly 14 and he had adjusted to his life with his father in Portland and that Dinh assured the court he had no plans to move again.
“(He) would likely experience substantial disruption if he is ordered to leave those friends and family behind,” Lewis added, adding. “While (MND) needs to re-establish his relationship with his mother, and her family, that change should not be abrupt and total, if the father will cooperate in these changes.”
In his order, Lewis awarded the couple joint legal and joint physical custody of their son, but let the boy continue living with his father. Nguyen was awarded custody every Christmas and spring break vacation and the entire summer vacation. The judge also continued the 60-day minimum relocation notice requirement.
The last modified order remains in effect, according to Howard, Nguyen’s former attorney, but she had no other information and she has not spoken to Nguyen since she was sent the 2018 judgement.
Howard found it shocking that her former client is now accused of shooting her two younger children. It is completely out of character with the mother she knew.
“She was always very quiet, soft spoken, and pleasant to be around. Even when dealing with the very stressful situation with her son,” Howard said. “She is very tiny, so her demure personality seemed to match her stature. She worked hard for two years to locate (MND) and reestablish her relationship with (him), which makes this situation so puzzling.”
This article originally appeared on Bucks County Courier Times: Trinh Nguyen had previous three year custody battle over third son