By Nicholas Rizzi, Murray Weiss and Wil Cruz
RIVERDALE — A cook for The Modern at MoMA was shot to death early Thursday steps from his Riverdale home, police sources and relatives said, the apparent victim of a cold-blooded robbery of his iPhone.
Hwang Yang, 26, had walked six blocks from the subway station at West 231st Street, and was just a few blocks from his Johnson Avenue home, when at least one armed robber — who spotted Yang's white ear buds — confronted him at Cambridge Avenue about 12:30 a.m., sources said.
The gunman demanded the iPhone, and when the cook refused he opened fire, striking Yang in the torso, police said.
Paramedics rushed Yang to Columbia Presbyterian Hospital, where he died, police said.
In a tragic twist, Yang's parents occasionally picked him up at train station and gave him a ride the rest of the way home from work at the high-end restaurant owned by Danny Meyer, his cousin said.
"He usually calls his dad to pick him up," said Peter Han, 30, said Thursday at the family home. "Today, he just decided to walk up."
Calls to Meyer's restaurant group were not immediately returned.
Ji Park, 53, a family friend who attends the same church as the Yang family, said the young man's mom, Hyun Sub Yang, is beating herself up for not going to the station to meet her son.
"She just blames herself" for not picking him up, Park said.
No arrests have been made. Detectives believe the robber marked him because of the trendy phone, sources said.
"His iPhone was missing," the police source said. "Robbery is one of the avenues that are being explored."
Hwang Yang and his family emigrated from Seoul, South Korea, 11 years ago, and finally became a U.S. citizen six months ago, friends and relatives said. He attended Riverside Kingsbridge Academy and taught Sunday school at a local Catholic church that catered to the emerging Korean community.
But Yang, though reserved and quiet, loved to express himself through food and photography, they added.
"I can't believe it happened," said Jooeun Suh, 23, a former classmate of Yang at Riverdale Kingsbridge Academy who left flowers at the crime scene Thursday morning. "I couldn't believe it."
Hee Young Ju, 25, also memorialized Yang by leaving flowers at the corner where he was gunned down.
"I think flowers are the way I can show my sadness," she said.
Yang's distraught mother, who was seen sobbing uncontrollably outside of her home Thursday, has to decide whether to bury her son in their adopted home or take him to back to Korea, Park said.
Park advised Yang to bury him here.
"You're going to be here," she urged Yang. "Then your son should be here."
Trevor Kapp and Mary Johnson contributed to this story.