Imagine you had four months to live. What would you do? Would you travel the world? Would you tell someone you loved them? Would you get your affairs in order? Would you worry about your children’s future? Would you commit a crime?
Lai Hang, 49, was given four months to live after she was diagnosed with terminal cancer. Like any parent with a terminal illness, she was concerned about leaving her 17-year-old son, George, behind. She worried for his future. But her concerns were not about whether George would have the support he needed. She was worried that George might hurt someone.
Back in 1992, Hang moved to America where she married her new husband, Peter. The two opened a printing shop, Quality Printing and Graphics, and began their happy new American life. The store proved to be a success, and the couple bought a small house in the gated community of Rosemead. In 1998, Hang gave birth to George and the future looked bright.
In 2012, this perfect American life began to crumble when Peter became diagnosed with cancer. He had tumors in his chest and brain. During George’s freshman year at Gabrielino High School, Peter died. According to Chong, George took his father’s death hard. He withdrew from his friends and activities and began to exhibit some disturbing behavior.
As Chong visited the Hang household in following years, she took notice of some troubling signs. A garden Chong had planted with George had been destroyed. The house was covered with books and papers about Hitler, including a hand-drawn stencil of a swastika. George had also apparently been fixated on mass shooters like Dylann Roof.
What troubled Hang was not necessarily this behavior in and of itself. It was George’s behavior combined with his diagnosis of schizophrenia shortly after his father’s death. Mental illness remains a taboo in many cultures, but more commonly among Asian American families. That demographic is the least likely to seek out treatment.
Hang, however, did seek out treatment for George. Unfortunately, that isn’t often enough. Asian American parents, even if they’ve sought treatment, have difficulties speaking openly about mental health issues. Being unable to be open about these issues can lead to families missing out on a critical piece of therapy.
As close as Chong was to Hang, they weren’t able to speak about George’s schizophrenia. Both were raised in a culture where speaking about a family’s pain is improper. The proper way to handle such a matter is to simply remain silent and to give them the privacy they needed in order to avoid any public embarrassment. No family wants to be viewed as struggling; pity is not welcome.
Chong remained silent while Hang struggled with her concerns about her son. After Hang’s diagnosis, she was left to wonder alone what would happen with George after her death. George hadn’t been the same since his father’s death, would her death be too much for him to handle? Instead of destroying a garden in the backyard, would he hurt a stranger?
“When people don’t understand that people with serious diagnoses can lead fulfilling lives, they hit the panic button,” said DJ Ida, director of the National Asian Pacific Islander Mental Health Association. There are plenty of options a dying parent can do to create a safe, healthy future for their troubled children.
Hang wasn’t aware of these paths. Her solution was far darker. On July 27, 2015, the 10-day waiting period was over, and Hang picked up her new handgun. She took George out for his favorite meal, pad thai, and checked into Valley Hotel in Rosemead.
When George was asleep, Hang shot him twice in the chest and crawled into bed beside him. She lay beside him the rest of the night.
That evening, Hang called Chong from George’s cellphone. “What’s wrong?” she asked. “Where are you? Where is George?”
“I sent him away,” Hang said.
That December, a judge ruled that Hang’s current health state qualified her for compassionate release, and she was sent to a nearby hospital where she could die comfortably. She died alone.
According to Detective Eddie Brown of the LA County Sheriff’s Department, Hang killed her son because she thought he might be a danger to himself or others around him. “She believed he was at risk to become a mass shooter. She believed she was doing the right thing. She didn’t want others to suffer.”