Christian J. Hall stood precariously on the ledge of a highway overpass near Stroudsburg, Pennsylvania, looking down at the cars passing beneath him. It was the early afternoon of Dec. 30, 2020, a cold, windy day.
Christian had called 911 anonymously, reporting “a possible suicider.” Pennsylvania State Police troopers arrived at the scene and formed a wide perimeter around the 19-year-old with their vehicles, behind which armed troopers urged him to put down the gun he was holding and talk it out.
For an hour and a half, the troopers tried to deescalate the situation, but Christian mostly stood or sat on the pavement, disengaged, nearly motionless. Very little happened for a long time. Christian put on a coat. He smoked. The troopers repeated their commands over and over: Put down the gun, come over, let’s talk. “I promise no one will hurt you,” a trooper said. “You have my word.”
Eventually Christian did start to move toward the troopers, slowly putting one foot in front of the other, inching forward, his arms down at his side, gun in one hand. They fired three shots, which struck the concrete highway barrier. Christian’s arms flew up, outstretched. He stopped walking. “Drop the gun!” a trooper shouted. Christian took one small step forward and put his hands up, pointing the gun toward the sky. Then he was still for a moment — a stillness of about two seconds that was shattered by the sound of more bullets. Police opened fire at Christian from about 70 feet away. He was hit three times, causing his body to fold and hit the ground. The weapon in his hand turned out to be an airsoft pellet gun.
Christian had been in the US for nearly his entire life. His parents, Gareth Hall, who is Black and Latino, and Fe Hall, who is Filipino, had adopted him from China when he was an infant and moved from New York City to this quaint town tucked in the Pocono Mountains in hopes of giving their child a better life. Ultimately, Christian was failed by systems that fail so many in America: a mental health system that left him waitlisted for a counselor when he had depression, and a justice system that cycled him through juvenile detention for much of his adolescence. And when he contemplated killing himself on Dec. 30, it was police officers who arrived at the scene who killed him instead.
“All we’ve done was move to Pennsylvania, so that we can raise a child safer,” said Fe. “Adopt a child from China to give him a better life. And this is how it ends.”
Despite Christian’s hands being raised when he was shot, the Monroe County District Attorney’s Office concluded that “the use of deadly force was justified,” releasing edited footage of the incident. They described the event as a “classic ‘suicide by cop’ scenario.” In a statement, the DA’s office said the troopers “displayed much professionalism and compassion” while trying to engage with Christian and were qualified to handle the encounter, with one having experience in mental health and another in hostage negotiations. Ultimately, the statement said, “the troopers reasonably believed that there was an imminent risk that Hall’s actions would cause death or serious bodily injury to themselves and others unless deadly force was used.”
Fe, Gareth, and Christian’s aunt Nicole Henriquez, an attorney, began a campaign to have the incident investigated by the state attorney general, to release the full, unedited cam footage, and to name the troopers. Ben Crump and Devon Jacob, the attorneys representing the families of George Floyd and other victims of police killings, took on the Halls’ case.
“The people who were trained to deescalate the situation seem to have escalated the situation, and like George Floyd, they didn’t offer Christian the benefit of the doubt,” Crump said.
While there is no evidence that race played any role in Christian’s death, supporters of a growing movement to stop anti-Asian racism saw in his shooting an injustice against an Asian American at the hands of law enforcement. Illustrations of Christian circulated in social media groups that were sharing news about attacks and injustices against Asian people for the past year. Rallies were held for Christian; protesters marched with signs that read “No to racist police violence.”
Yet despite these efforts, not many people outside of Asian communities and beyond the Poconos area have heard about the death of Christian Hall. In the months following the shooting, the Hall family wondered why their cries about Christian’s death at the hands of police had not received more attention at a time when the issue was drawing nationwide protests. Henriquez, who is Black and Latina, said that she suspected it was because of her nephew’s race: “[B]ecause he was Asian? Is this why no one cares?” she tweeted.
The lack of interest struck a nerve deeply embedded in the Asian American psyche: that we are invisible in America, gliding through systems that take no interest in us. A similar sense of helplessness and public apathy spurred Black people to chant “Black lives matter.” Now, more Asian people, feeling mischaracterized as so-called model minorities, find themselves confronting unjust systems that Black people have long been battling, as more incidents of harassment, violence, and racism against Asian people are reported, rousing them from their silence on these issues. For Christian Hall, though, it was too late.
Gareth and Fe Hall met in 1987 during church in Queens, New York. They didn’t start dating until 1995 and married a year later in that same church. The couple lived in the Flushing and Jamaica neighborhoods, and when they decided to adopt a child, they built a house in a rural part of Pennsylvania called the Poconos and moved out in 2000 in anticipation of raising a family. “We felt that New York was not a place for our child to grow up, with no place to run around,” said Fe. “We thought that it would be safer.”
Setting out for the quiet streets and rustic charm of northeastern Pennsylvania, the Halls hoped to escape the racism they had experienced in the crowded bustle of New York City. Fe recalled a Black man in New York yelling “ching chong” and “waving his hands in a very threatening manner” for some time at her mother when they were out to see a movie. “No one came to our aid.” Another time, a group of white men in a parking lot screamed at her to go back to her country. “When Gareth said, ‘I want to live in the Poconos, away from New York City, and raise our kids there,’ those were the kinds of memories that were in my head, that I don't want my child to be subjected to experiences like that,” she said. This was small-town America, where people nod and smile as you walk down the street — the sort of atmosphere idealized in imaginations by white American mythology.
When Fe and Gareth received their first photo of their baby boy, who was in an orphanage in China, “it was love at first sight,” Fe recalled. “He became our son the minute we saw that picture.” In 2002, they traveled to Shanghai and met Christian eight days before his first birthday, which the new family celebrated in a Hard Rock Cafe in Guangzhou before returning to the United States.
Their new house in Pennsylvania had four bedrooms on an acre and a quarter. Gareth gave his son one of the bigger bedrooms with a large, L-shaped closet. “I just saw it from the eyes of a little boy, and I knew he would love to have a closet like this where he could just hide in it if he wanted.”
The Poconos had just experienced a population boom. Developers advertised to city dwellers like the Halls to claim their slice of the American dream with the new, affordable homes they were building. Monroe Country grew by 45% between 1990 and 2000. Like the Halls, many of the people arriving in the region disrupted its racial homogeneity. Monroe County went from being 95% non-Hispanic white in 1990 to about 64% in 2019, according to census data.
Christian, being ethnically Chinese, was one of the area’s roughly 2% Asian population. In their town of Stroudsburg, there were about 100 Asian people when the Halls first arrived, census data shows. Gareth said he hoped for his son to learn Chinese, but said, “I couldn’t find anything in the Yellow Pages, back in the day, or on the internet. I literally had to ask people who work in Chinese restaurants if they knew of anyone or anything that I could get him involved in.” They didn’t.
The Poconos did not turn out to be the shelter from racism that the Halls had hoped. The influx of “city people” — as the local newspaper called the new arrivals — from New York and New Jersey created tensions in the area. In 2002, the Pocono Mountain School Board split the school district into two to accommodate the area’s growing population, revealing racist sentiments about the changing community. One man who worked on committees that determined how to divide the district later said in a 2013 roundtable discussion on racism held by the Pocono Record, “They divided because of growth but people realized these kids don’t look like our kids. There were a number of people in Paradise, Barrett, and Pocono who were very against the minority people coming into the district.”
Even now, Gareth, who is a substitute teacher (and is often one of the only teachers of color, including at schools that are majority nonwhite), said he hears students use racist language. Just before schools closed during the pandemic, he heard a student tell a biracial Asian American classmate, “You brought this disease.” “I don’t normally lose my cool in the classroom, but I did then,” he said.
While working as a charge nurse, Fe said a patient once requested several nurse changes until she was assigned a white nurse. “It's just these kinds of experiences that leave a mark,” she said.
Fe witnessed racist comments outside of Christian’s school, too. “I would just hear, sometimes, bits and pieces of these conversations,” she said. “Some would say, ‘Christian, if you would actually open your chinky eyes, you'll see whatever I mean.’”
Asian families in Stroudsburg’s public schools were having similar experiences. Ryan Chen, a 16-year-old Chinese American, said while his life as a Stroudsburg teen overall is “pretty normal,” he has been the target of racist jokes in the past and kids speaking to him in fake Chinese, using “anything that ends in i-n-g or o-n-g.” His parents, who co-own a Chinese restaurant, have received prank calls from people asking, “Can I have an order of cooked cat or dog?” “I guess they just think that something different is funny,” he said. “I’m not too sure.”
Chris Hu, a 16-year-old Chinese American born in Stroudsburg, said, “Growing up Asian, obviously, you have that stereotypical stigma around you: ‘Oh, he's good at math and eats dog’ and all that stuff.” Kids he considered to be friends called him “ching-chong.” Hu said he did what so many kids do — he internalized it. He began responding when they called him by this slur. “I thought it would make me a part of a ‘cool’ group.” Eventually, another group of friends told Hu to stop degrading himself. “That hurts me to this day, that I was so blind to realize that that's incredibly racist and I was a part of the problem.”
Christian affiliated with the Black and Latino cultures of his family, Gareth recalled. He signed his text messages “Mr. Hispanic Blasian.” He listened to Daddy Yankee and Lil Baby. He spoke “like a young Black kid,” Gareth said. He loved Filipino foods like pancit, lumpia, and the sour sinigang soup Fe’s sister would make for him. He maintained a diverse circle of friends from school and from church. “Christian had friends of every race and creed and I loved him for it,” Gareth said.
As he navigated race and identity, Christian faced other challenges.
At a young age, Christian had learning and mental health issues. Attention deficit and hyperactivity disorder and auditory processing delay led his parents to take him out of the public school system starting in fourth grade to join a homeschool co-op with about eight children in his age group. He also had depression and reactive attachment disorder, a condition that affects many adopted children and impacts their ability to form emotional attachments with people.
“I always wondered if Christian had difficulty attaching because he’s adopted,” Fe said. “When he was younger, he had blurted out, ‘I just want to see my mother's face.’ He didn't say it, but I think that he didn't talk too much about the pain of being adopted or feeling rejected because he was protecting us, protecting me in particular, because I'm his mother.”
When Christian was 10 years old, he accidentally started a fire while playing with matches, damaging a room in a building. No one was injured. He was placed in juvenile detention pending his completion of a counseling program. “Due to the trauma caused by being separated from his parents at such a young age and being housed with strangers as old as age 21 — some of whom were violent offenders — Christian’s mental health deteriorated making it difficult for him to complete the counseling program,” Devon Jacob, the Halls’ attorney, said in a statement. He was detained until around age 14, when he was released to his parents and placed on probation. “By then, however, the damage was done,” Jacob said. A cycle began where, in violation of his probation, Christian would run away from home and then be detained again for lengthy periods of time. “This unfortunate cycle continued until the time of his death.”
Christian told troopers on the day he was shot that he had been in prison for eight years and that it occurred when he was a juvenile, according to the DA report, which did not provide any other information about what Christian was referring to. Jacob said the district attorney’s office “inappropriately referenced Christian Hall’s juvenile criminal history, despite it not being relevant to the use of force inquiry.”
Gareth and Fe did not want to divulge more about this period of Christian’s life. They want justice for him without having to expose his entirety to public judgment.
“He wasn’t perfect. No one is,” read a post Gareth shared from a Justice for Christian Hall Facebook account. “But in our eyes, he was close to perfect.”
It was a warm afternoon on April 10, and the Hall family was headed to a rally in Philadelphia to demand justice for their dead son. The Monroe County district attorney had recently concluded that “the use of deadly force was justified,” but three months had gone by and the family still hadn’t seen any raw camera footage and did not know the names of the troopers who shot their son. The Halls asked for an investigation by the Pennsylvania attorney general.
The rally was staged at City Hall. Nearby, Positive Movement drummers beat for justice. A group of young socialists with the Philadelphia Liberation Center arrived in support, along with people brought together by the American Chinese United Association and the Asian Pacific Islander Political Alliance. State Reps. Malcolm Kenyatta and Maureen Madden spoke in support of the Hall family. “Hands up! Don’t shoot!” the protesters cried.
The Halls addressed the crowd, demanding justice for their son.
“Christian’s death should not be in vain,” Fe told the crowd. “And as much as I hate to say it, Christian’s death should be the catalyst for change and reform.”
They said they established a new foundation in Christian’s name supporting adoptee mental health, police reform, juvenile justice reform, and combating racism. The rally for Christian Hall tied together several issues, including the fact that here was an Asian American killed at a time when violence against Asian people was surging — except in this case, the issue did not appear to be outright racism but law enforcement aggression.
In life, Christian embodied an experience that is rarely portrayed for Asian people — a blended racial identity, mental health issues, incarceration — and faced problems shared with other marginalized groups. In death, he fell victim to the sort of state violence that has disproportionately harmed Black and Latino people.
Darcie Wada, a 27-year-old Chinese adoptee with a Japanese father and white mother, said when she heard about the shooting of an Asian adoptee experiencing a mental health crisis, having gone through her own trauma and depression, “I saw myself in somebody who was murdered by the police for the very first time. And I just, I couldn’t unsee it.” She said it felt like no one was supporting Asian people, a feeling she knows Black people have long had that she can better empathize with now.
Clark Lambo, a spokesperson for the American Chinese United Association, a nonpartisan organization advocating for civil rights and representation for Chinese Americans, said the group rallied several dozen Chinese people to attend the event that day. News about Christian had been shared in WeChat groups shortly after he died. “We wanted to support the family however we could, and say that Chinese Americans are Americans, and they’re here in the country, and they want to make their voice heard,” he said.
Lambo, a 27-year-old Philadelphia resident who is part Chinese, explained why Christian’s death resonated with so many people in the group. “I think that people see themselves in Christian,” he said. “If he could die like that, and no consequences are brought upon the people involved, then who’s to say that that wouldn’t happen to myself? Or to another immigrant? Or to somebody that doesn’t speak English as well as he did?”
For some, the police shooting of Christian Hall reflected a reality they had long grappled with: that Asian communities could not escape the oppressive forces harming other communities of color. Hau Phan, 31, said after his family moved into a white neighborhood in Philadelphia when he was 8 years old, kids routinely trailed him after school, threw rocks at him, prank-called the house, and yelled racist slurs. His house was egged daily. Once, harassers collected trash from around the neighborhood and lit it on fire on Phan’s porch. “My family always told me that this was a part of coming here,” he said. “That was a part of growing up in America. That you have to deal with the racism.” But now, Phan said, he sees that mindset changing among those around him. Rather than accept the country’s racism, more Asian Americans are joining in a fight against the inequality that predated their families’ immigrations. “It’s so powerful that we're talking about this now and also being intersectional about it, how it all ties in to white supremacy and police brutality,” he said.
In the last high-profile police shooting involving a Chinese American, in 2014, crowds of Chinese and Chinese American protesters rallied for “equal justice” for Peter Liang, the Chinese American police officer who fatally shot Akai Gurley, a 28-year-old Black man in Brooklyn. They wondered why an Asian cop was being prosecuted when white cops in fatal shootings hadn’t been and said Liang was “sacrificed to compensate for white officers who weren’t indicted.” This time the Asian American was on the other side of the shooting, shining a light on the institutional failures that harm those who don’t fit the image of the “model minority” and underscoring the efforts of Asian American activists to encourage their communities to join the calls for racial justice.
Before Jessica Brady, a 16-year-old high school student in Stroudsburg, knew about Christian Hall, she had attended a Black Lives Matter rally during the summer in the wake of the police killing of George Floyd. She knew Gareth as Mr. Hall, a teacher at her school, and when students heard on the news that a local teenager, Christian Hall, was killed by police, they eventually pieced together that Mr. Hall was his father. She and her friend Chris Hu then organized a rally for Christian on March 14 in Stroudsburg that they estimate was attended by about 200 people. Attendees chanted, “Asian lives matter!” and “Mental health matters!” while holding signs bearing photos of Christian.
Brady later said she was harassed by classmates. “The hate within Stroudsburg, I think, is becoming more amplified as more people try to come out against it,” she said. People asked her why she was getting involved, told her Christian deserved to be killed by police, and accused her of fame-seeking.
“I had my efforts on Facebook torn to pieces by people who have never even met me,” she told ralliers in Philadelphia in April. “But I will not stop fighting for justice.”
Weeks before Christian’s death, he witnessed a disturbing incident at a mall in Lehigh Valley. “Christian saw a bunch of Latino kids getting harassed by the police,” Henriquez, his aunt, said. “Christian videotaped it and sent it to me. And he’s like, ‘Tia Nicole, what can we do about this?’”
Gareth and Fe said their son was outraged. He couldn’t sleep; he continued to talk about it for days and eventually wondered how Asian people fit into the wider American story. “He asked me a question not long after that, that still sticks with me,” Gareth said. “He said, ‘Dad, what would have happened to me during the civil rights era? How would I have been treated?’” Gareth meant to ask his best friend, who is Chinese American, how she would answer Christian’s question. “I remember saying to myself, I have to call her to get her perspective so that I can give my son a better answer. I just never got the opportunity to do so.”
The pandemic had been hard for Christian. He was weaned off his depression medication by a psychiatrist nearly two years ago because “he didn’t like the way it made him feel,” Gareth said. Then his therapist left the practice in November 2020 and he was waitlisted for a new one. “Out here, there's a shortage of counseling services,” Gareth said. The area’s lack of access to mental health professionals has been noted by politicians, including Rep. Susan Wild, whose partner killed himself. Fe struggled to find a new therapist for her son. First her health insurer told her Christian would need to call himself for a list of mental health professionals, even though he was on her plan. When they eventually did provide a list, Fe tried to make appointments with counselors for Christian, but was told he had to call himself because he was an adult. “He was depressed about always being at home, not being able to hang out with his friends, not being able to see his family,” Fe said. Then he and his girlfriend broke up. In the end, “we don’t know what pushed him,” she said.
According to the DA’s report, Christian posted a photo on Snapchat on the evening of Dec. 29 with a caption that included the statement, “I FUCKING HATE MY LIFE.” The next day, he texted his ex-girlfriend a recording that he called his suicide letter. In one of his final posts on social media, Christian ruminated about a person’s final moments before dying, about life flashing before one’s eyes, with a photo of the highway.
Fe and Gareth were out searching for Christian when he died. Some of Christian’s friends contacted his father after seeing a troubling image from social media in which he wrote “RIP CHRISTIAN HALL 10/31/2001 – 12/30/2020,” and Gareth’s phone number. They were just minutes away from the overpass when he was shot.
The police called the Halls, instructing them to come to the police station. “We’re like, ‘Oh my god, what happened?’” Gareth recalled. “And in the back of my mind, I was saying, ‘Good lord, Christian, what did you do?’” The police told them Christian was dead.
A bystander video Gareth saw later that day showed Christian’s hands raised high as he was shot. “There’s a problem with the shooting” and how a person with mental illness was dealt with, said Jacob, the Halls’ attorney. “He clearly should have been alive at the end of this.”
Gareth and Fe continue to struggle with their grief over their son’s death. In Philadelphia, they spoke to supporters candidly about this pain.
“When bullets ended my son’s life, my life ended too. My husband and I died with him,” Fe said tearfully. “We now have to learn how to live without him. We eat our meals on the couch staring at the TV. We cannot sit in the kitchen table or the dining room because there's an empty chair. I get on my knees to wipe the dirt on the kitchen floor and sweep it off because he was the last one to mop. His video game controllers and headset are still on the coffee table. His jacket is draped over one of the dining room chairs, and I hold that jacket close to my chest from time to time as I call his name and tell him I love him and I miss him.” ●
Scott Pham contributed reporting to this story.
The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline is 1-800-273-8255. Other international suicide helplines can be found at befrienders.org. The Trevor Project, which provides help and suicide-prevention resources for LGBTQ youth, is 1-866-488-7386.