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The Kia Boy and me

caption: Aimeé Muul's Hyundai was stolen in 2023 by a one of the self-proclaimed "Kia Boyz."
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Aimeé Muul's Hyundai was stolen in 2023 by a one of the self-proclaimed "Kia Boyz."
Courtesy of Aimeé Muul

In July 2023, Aimee Muul’s 2017 Hyundai Elantra was stolen. While her car was missing, it was featured on a Kia Boyz Instagram story a couple of times and shown being used by young men to do stunts.

On the morning of July 6, 2023, I came out of my apartment to leave for work, only to find that my car was not parked where I had left it. All that remained was shattered glass in the empty parking spot. I was in disbelief. My gut felt knotted. I looked around, tried to activate the alarm with my car remote, wondering if I’d had a memory lapse and parked in a different location.

I called the police, made a report, and then called my insurance company. I also called out from work, given that it was a 30-mile trip. I was irate. I felt targeted, violated, and defeated. It felt unfair. I had been struggling greatly—financially and otherwise. I had moved back to Seattle from Spokane in early 2021 after an unexpected breakup; my father passed away in September 2022; and I was caring for my elderly mother – in addition to a sick, old dog. My car was essential.

I share this background to explain my frustration. I was so upset that I remarked to my nephew, “If I could find those m----- f------, I’d love to put a gun to their heads.” A knee-jerk reaction. I was seeing the world with blinders on.

My car was recovered by the Seattle Police Department six days later, less than one mile from my apartment complex. The officer called and asked if I could come immediately to pick it up—to avoid it being stolen again. He said the USB device used to start the car was still plugged in, that he did not see drugs, and that the car seemed drivable.

It was parked next to overgrown grass on the parking strip, which made it difficult to get in. When I opened the door, the stench of marijuana mixed with cigar nicotine was overpowering. There was broken glass all over the back seat and floor. Papers of mine were strewn across the back seat. There was a paper plate with old food covered in aluminum foil. A hair pick. An unsmoked cigar. Cigar ashes in the cup holder. It was filthy. As for the body of the vehicle, a window was broken, there were new scratches, scuffs, and dings. The only thing taken was my vehicle registration.

caption: A view inside Aimeé Muul's Hyundai after it was stolen by so-called Kia Boyz.
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A view inside Aimeé Muul's Hyundai after it was stolen by so-called Kia Boyz.
Courtesy of Aimeé Muul

I felt strange sitting in my car, knowing that someone else had been doing stunts, eating, smoking, and laughing in it.

The next ordeal was with my insurance company. I notified them that the vehicle was recovered. At some point during the process of getting photos over to them and getting repair estimates, my claim was referred to the Special Investigations Unit for suspected fraud. Now I was really livid. Not only had my life been turned upside down with respect to my transportation, but I was being accused of fraud.

Once again, my thoughts turned to doing harm to those who stole my car. But after my landlord provided security camera footage of the theft to my insurance company, the suspected fraud portion of the claim was dropped. My car was repaired, I was out my $1,000 deductible, and life went back to what I suppose you could call normal. I got rid of my Hyundai because many Kia and Hyundai owners reported having their vehicles stolen multiple times despite the free upgrades provided by the car manufacturers.

caption: Security footage of Aimeé Muul's Hyundai being stolen in July 2023.
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Security footage of Aimeé Muul's Hyundai being stolen in July 2023.
Courtesy of Aimeé Muul

Fast forward to January 2024. I was watching the evening news and saw Saylen Kelly’s name and photograph come on the screen as an alleged “Kia Boy” arrested for suspected involvement in multiple car thefts around the greater Seattle area.

My initial thought was “Good. They got one of them.” But then I heard his twin sister Saleen speak about his arrest, saying that Saylen struggled with emotional and mental health issues.

The breakup I mentioned earlier, which happened in 2021, was with someone who went into the criminal legal system at age 14 and did not see freedom until age 42. In the weeks that followed the news about Saylen Kelly, I reflected on what my former fiancé had been through as a youth. I reminded myself that no child is born “bad.” That young people committing crimes are usually hurting deeply inside. That their childhoods are often rife with trauma and neglect. And that if they are Black, Indigenous, or a person of color, they have likely experienced a plethora of microaggressions and inequities. I don’t say all this to condone their crimes. I say it as a reminder that no one just wakes up and decides to become this way.

As I perused Saylen’s twin sister’s Facebook page a couple of evenings ago, I read a statement she made about Saylen’s life being at risk. That triggered my curiosity to dig deeper.

I found a police incident involving Saylen from last August. In this incident, Saylen told police he was suicidal. As I read that report, my all-consuming anger about my car being stolen vanished. The feelings that remained were sadness, disappointment, and fear.

Sadness because I was reminded that our youth still don’t have the support they need, even decades after someone I care about went into the system as a young teen.

Disappointment because I believe our society owes young people so much more.

Fear because of what I know lies ahead for Saylen and those like him who face prison time.

I have seen and experienced so much mental illness in my lifetime, yet access to good mental health intervention is practically nonexistent. Especially for those without insurance and without parents who understand the healthcare system.

My former fiancé is doing well today, but if you knew the struggles behind his accomplishments, and the trauma that he grapples with, you would know that prison dims any light that remains. You would know that Black youth are treated harshly compared to their white counterparts. And that lengthy prison sentences don’t make better humans. They might conjure compliance, but they do not encourage healthy emotional interaction, nor healing. I speak from experience.

Last night, as my nephew and I walked my dog, I shed tears when I told him what I had learned about Saylen Kelly. I shed tears for saying that I would like to put a gun to the person’s head who stole my car. I felt shame for my feelings and words, and our failings with respect to our youth and underprivileged. I can only hope that if convicted for his alleged crimes, Saylen’s judge will have the grace to take the mitigating factors into account.

Editor’s note: On January 4, Saylen Kelly was arrested in Seattle. Saylen is allegedly part of the Seattle “Kia Boyz” ring that stole Kias and Hyundais that were manufactured without engine immobilizers. Aimeé Muul’s car was not listed in charging documents as one of those he stole.

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