On October 31, 2014, 19-year-old Anthony Romero followed a car to Creekside Terrace hiking trail in Salinas, California and shot two bullets into a man’s head with his wife watching next to him. He then proceeded by robbing two high school kids, shooting another pedestrian in the stomach, holding up two convenience stores, and running over his girlfriend’s father with a stolen vehicle. He was found and arrested that evening. Fortunately every victim survived, except for the first victim. My dad.
This early morning, on April 15, 2016, the hearing was held in Monterey Country Court. Over 20 witnesses were identified, and Romero pleaded guilty. He was sentenced 40 years in jail, with a possible parole based on behavior. Our family was asked for a statement to address Anthony in the courtroom. I dreaded this ask as I decided between declining in silence or taking an opportunity to say something. I finally wrote my statement and this was what was read:
“The person I loved most in this world was my dad. My earliest memory was of him holding and bouncing me on his lap. He was a very loving father, and did everything to provide, protect, and guide me through life. We didn’t have much money when we were growing up–our family all slept on the same mattress. But my dad would still manage to round up our family in our beat up Chevy Nova and take us on road trips across the country–taking us to museums to educate us, and national parks to inspire us. He was passionate about teaching us about God and the world, and it was because of him that my brother was able to go to Stanford, and I was able to go to RISD. It often pained me to see his talents hidden behind a dollar store counter where he owned his business. It was a physically exhausting job, and I knew of his dream of wanting to start a school for underprivileged kids in Korea. I was convinced that the world would be a better place if my dad’s wisdom was shared. It drove me to be ambitious enough to leave my lucrative advertising job in LA and move to New York to co-found a startup, hoping it would be successful enough to seed his dream. The company was named TIME Inc’s Top 5 Companies to Watch For, and reached all over media, including Wall Street Journal’s channel. I even had the opportunity to appear on ABC’s Shark Tank and raised money from their top investor. I called my dad everyday, excitedly telling him my daily happenings, as he would laugh and bring me back to earth. I was convinced the success of the company was happening as part of God’s plans, as my dad’s store was doing badly, and he had to make a decision soon of leaving his business.
So it was to my shock that the morning before my 31st birthday, I received a phone call from my mother hysterically screaming for me to come back home–that something tragic happened to dad. The next day, instead of a birthday gift, I received my dad’s ashes.
I immediately uprooted myself from New York where I built my community, best friends, church, and career to take care of my mom. We sold the house I bought for my parents, folded up the remains of my dad’s business, and gave away our dogs, Cooper and Dixie, that my parents raised like children. My brother abruptly stepped out of his newly based job in London and moved his family temporarily to Salinas for 6 months. We were involved in civil suits with my dad’s estranged family in Korea, and before I knew it, my business was gone and I was unemployed with no place to live.
I’m not married, but as every little girl does, I used to imagine my wedding–so much so that I used to tell my dad I wanted to be a wedding planner. I always dreamed of my dad walking me down the aisle, having our first dance, and having him very much part of my life as I had children. I wanted him to discipline, teach, and show my children everything that he taught me, as I believed he did it the best.
I’m still asking God why all of this happened. I often wonder why a 19-year-old boy would do such a thing? Ironically, shortly before the incident, I was volunteering at a non-profit organization called Defy Ventures. I mentored men and women with criminal history backgrounds to become entrepreneurs. Their stories are heroic and redemptive–rising from the lowest of lows to becoming successful, law-abiding citizens. But more importantly, witnessing them becoming character-shaped men and women. It further fueled my belief that change can happen if the choice is made. That is why I volunteered there, because I believe in second chances and more.
I believe that for you, too. God blesses us with time on this earth and it is our choice on how to spend it. You will be 61 by the time you get out of jail. Don’t believe that’s when life starts again. I once read that character, like a photograph, develops in darkness. I hope the photograph you develop will be a beautiful one. And I hope the same for myself.”
–Jane Chung, daughter of Paul Chung
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And this statement was from my older brother, Jack Chung, son of Paul Chung:
Dear Anthony Romero,
My father was a month away from turning 59 when he was killed. He was excited for the future. Up until then, he’d spent the majority of his life toiling away as an immigrant from Korea so that he could provide a better life for his children. He had received a doctorate degree in entomology, but he spent years working as a travel agent and then as an owner of a convenience store so that he could send my sister and myself off to college. In the last ten years both of us had graduated from college and had gone on to have good careers, so in 2014 my dad decided that he was ready to start a new chapter in his life. He and my mom were going to return to Korea in 2015, and he would work at a tea company owned by an old friend in the Korean countryside. After working so hard to make ends meet, he would finally get to have a job that he was passionate about. And every year, the plan was to come back to the US to visit my sister and me. He would also get to see my son Brennan — his grandson — who was two years old at the time of his death. My dad loved Brennan; no grandchild had a grandfather who loved him so much.
I often think about this dream of my dad’s, and how close he was to having it fulfilled before that tragic day. It pains me to think that he never got to live out the part of his life in which he would see the dividends of his life’s work. He never got to return to Korea, never got to work with his friend at the tea company, never got to see his grandchild grow up. Recently, my son asked me when he’ll get to see his grandfather again, and I held back tears as I told him that he would see him some day.
I now have a second child, a daughter who is six months old, and he never even got a glimpse of her. When I hold her and look at her, I think of the qualities that I’d like to instill in her — qualities that my dad had. My dad was joyful, generous, honorable, and courageous. He had a force of will that allowed him to navigate through hardships in life without becoming embittered. He liked to laugh, and he had a deep desire to teach children. He volunteered for Sunday School throughout his life so that he could teach children to love Jesus and love others. He had many hobbies over the course of his life, including but not limited to music, photography, and movies. He enjoyed nature, and he loved to hike and take pictures of the beauty that resides in the natural world.
His death has had a lingering impact on all of us who loved him. My mother was traumatized and had to move away from Salinas, as it was too painful to live here anymore. My sister moved from New York to live close to my mother and support her. This has been a difficult transition for my sister, and she is still dealing with the loss of not just her dad but her closest confidant in all matters of life. As for myself, I have lost my father, a man who was the moral compass and guiding presence throughout my life. I think about him every day, and I miss him dearly.
We are still trying to make sense of why my father was killed on that fateful day. When you are ready, and when we are ready, we will reach out someday, so that we might try to understand who you were at that time and what you were thinking. We believe that the sentence you are about to receive is just, and that you must carry it out to the end as retribution of the acts you committed that day. At the same time, we are Christians, and as Christians we believe that Jesus loves you and forgives you. We forgive you. We hope that over time you will find the love of Jesus Christ in your life, and even in this terrible outcome, you will someday find redemption and protection in His mercy and love. We will be praying for you and your family.
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This day has been hard for us, but glad to have this day behind us and finally closed. My mom is settled and doing ok. Thank you for all the support, kindness, love, prayers, encouragement, you have been to our family. I want to close with my dad’s favorite verse that he would always read to us. (And thank you to the one who reminded me of it.) It’s from the book of Ecclesiastes 3.
1There is a time for everything,
and a season for every activity under the heavens:
2a time to be born and a time to die,
a time to plant and a time to uproot,
3a time to kill and a time to heal,
a time to tear down and a time to build,
4a time to weep and a time to laugh,
a time to mourn and a time to dance,
5a time to scatter stones and a time to gather them,
a time to embrace and a time to refrain from embracing,
6a time to search and a time to give up,
a time to keep and a time to throw away,
7a time to tear and a time to mend,
a time to be silent and a time to speak,
8a time to love and a time to hate,
a time for war and a time for peace.
R.I.P. Daddy, see you soon. xo
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Video below was played in court. Click link for view.
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