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Illustration by Carolyn Arthur

Bryan Chang sent this email to his mother in 2008:

"Hi Mom, Just saying that I love you, no matter what. Hope you are doing well, and all the rest of the Chu family. I know I have been very distant and weird lately, but believe me, strange things are happening to me, and I just want to protect you by keeping you at a distance…Although right now I have no job, no car, no phone (please cancel the subscription to Nextel for my account), no credit card, I am trying to save my soul through Jesus Christ my Lord and Savior. That is all you need to know. Take care. Again, no matter what, I am not in any sort of trouble with the law or anything like that. I am just trying to stay sane. I wish you the best always. Love, your son, Bryan"

Probably, he did not get the reaction he hoped for. The return email from his mother, Sherry Chu Chang, started with an announcement that she had just sold her business and was going to move away. She told Bryan: “The only way I can save myself is to let go. I have to convince myself that I did the best I can as a mother.”

They must have had a terrible fight, because Sherry also wrote: “I don’t know where I will be in the near future but I guess that wouldn’t be your concern either, since you made very clear to me that you don’t want me in your life. I will always remember and love you as my good old ‘Hua Hua.’ I will do my best to block out your ugly face I saw last time. I know that’s not you, my son.”

The woman sounded weary, even then, in 2008, of handling Bryan’s problems: “I have always managed your car ever since you were 16…I am asking you the last time, do you want the car or not…otherwise, I will give to Boa or Steven who desperately need a car. The things and love you don’t appreciate, I should benefit to other needed people.”

Sherry wondered: “I don’t know what happened in your life to cause you addict to drugs and not tune in this world.” She admonished her 26-year-old son: “I have no sympathy or the respect to see your young life wasted. My heart and soul hurt so much beyond you can even imagine.”

Her frustration was plain: “We all love you but I don’t know how to drag you out of your current situation.” She begged: “Please shape up and be a useful man to contribute good deeds to this world.”

By the end of her email, the dedicated mother was still offering help: “Hope you can get needed help. If I can be that help, please let me know. I will always love you no matter where I go. I sincerely hope you can get out from these mess and to be reborn again.”

Sherry never gave up on her son.

When Bryan received that email from his mother, he wasn’t discouraged. He immediately emailed back: “Hi Mom, I think we should meet again sometime soon, at your earliest convenience. Last time we met, I was literally insane, schizophrenic…I just didn’t want you to know about how bad my mental breakdown was. For the record: I AM NOT ADDICTED TO DRUGS. I have been sober for months now…. I am much more stable now…. If you are up for it, please let me know when you can drive up to L.A., and I will see you then. I would like to have my car and a new phone again, if you can do me that favor. I deeply appreciate it. In a lot of ways, you really are still the only person I have left in this world…. I am deeply committed to rebuilding my life, but you know that I am an artist. Love, Bryan.”

On July 15, 2008, Bryan sent this message: “Hi Mom, Please let me know when you are ready to meet me again. I really want to take dance lessons hardcore and become the best dancer in the world. No joke. This is what I was meant to do from day one without any outside interference like school. If there is one thing left for you to try on me, this is it: dance. I want to privately audition for you next time we meet, and you give me your honest, brutal opinion. I still have a long way to go…. Thanks for your support. Love, Bryan”

An outstanding student

Bryan Chenhua Chang was born in Los Angeles County in 1981. He is an only child.

His parents, Anthony and Sherry, were married in Taiwan; they separated around the time their son entered high school. Bryan was an outstanding student in the Palos Verdes Peninsula Unified School District, an exclusive area of Los Angeles County.

After high school, Bryan went on to Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. He worked for a time in computer programming. Then he went to Hastings law school in San Francisco. Bryan studied law for a short time before dropping out; he did not attempt to get a law degree.

Bryan’s parents never divorced, although they lived separately for years, Anthony in a large home in Alhambra, east of downtown Los Angeles. Anthony had contact with Sherry only when he wanted to discuss their son, Bryan. The father claimed that Bryan was closer to Sherry. He described her as a perfectionist. For example, if Bryan got 95 percent on a test, she would want to know why he’d missed those five points.

In spite of an extensive and prestigious education, Bryan stopped working. Early 2008, when he was 26, was the last time he held a regular job. It was the same year that Anthony noticed a change in his son’s behavior.

There was an ugly incident at Thanksgiving, when Anthony and Sherry drove together to their son’s apartment in a small community in West Los Angeles called Westgate. Bryan was not glad to see his parents. He told them they shouldn’t have come and then disappeared into his room. After some words, Anthony and Sherry left. As they drove away, Sherry received a call from Bryan on her cell phone. Anthony heard Bryan loudly telling his mother: “If I go to hell, I’ll take you guys with me.”

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Comments

Gekko4321 May 22, 2013 @ 10:57 a.m.

I hope he gets the death penalty. What a horrible human being.

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Joaquin_de_la_Mesa May 22, 2013 @ 7:20 p.m.

Yes, but how much of a part did mom play in making him such a horrible human being. Clearly, there was no tough love there.

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photog921 May 22, 2013 @ 8:38 p.m.

The son probably was not getting the focused, sustained mental health support he needed. Therapy, medication, etc. If he was schizophrenic - and it's not uncommon to be diagnosed at exactly that age - he should have our sympathy and not society's condemnation. For families who are experiencing this kind of challenge, there should be more resources.

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Eva Knott Nov. 6, 2013 @ 1:26 p.m.

Bryan Chang, now 33, appeared in court today November 6, 2013. Although Chang has had many mental health evaluations during the years he has been in custody, today Superior Court Judge Aaron Katz ordered one more psychologist to meet with the defendant. Forensic expert Dr. Judith Meyers, Psy.D., will be required to video-record her interview with Chang, the judge said today, per request of both attorneys. Chang's next court appearance is set for January 8, 2014, nearly four years since his mother's body was found in her Solana Beach home.

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Eva Knott Aug. 15, 2014 @ 1:14 p.m.

After a hearing this morning, August 15, defense attorney Kathleen Cannon said that she hopes to begin jury selection for trial in October or November of 2014. She said the trial is expected to last one month, and that would include both parts: presentation of evidence to decide guilt or innocence and then the sanity phase. "We're shooting for this year," the defender said. If the trial is delayed into year 2015, that will make five years since the body of Sherry Chang was found in her own home.

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