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Fourth Chinese student sentenced to prison in ‘parachute kid’ bullying case

Rowland Heights Park attack
罗兰岗公园,刘怡然说,自己在今年三月被来自中国的“降落伞孩子”同伴带到这里,挨打受虐。(图片来源:Brian van der Brug,《洛杉矶时报》)
(Brian van der Brug / Los Angeles Times)

A Chinese student was sentenced to three years in prison Tuesday in the bullying case of a fellow “parachute kid” in a Rowland Heights park.

The assault prompted soul-searching on both sides of the Pacific for the horrific details of the attack as well as the attention it brought to the increasing numbers of teenagers who attend high school in California while their parents remain in China.

For the record:
11:24 AM, Jul. 12, 2016 An earlier version of this article stated that Zheng Lu pleaded guilty to kidnapping and assault. His guilty plea was for assault only.

Zheng Lu, 20, who pleaded guilty to assault, is the fourth student from China to receive prison time for the incident. Three others are already serving prison terms, ranging from six to 13 years for the attack on the woman, then age 18.

A judge said the case reminded him of “Lord of the Flies,” William Golding’s 1954 novel about boys stranded on a deserted island without grownups.

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On March 30, 2015, a group of so-called parachute kids attacked the victim, stripping her naked, kicking her with high-heeled shoes, slapping her and burning her with cigarettes.

According to court testimony from the victim, the bad blood stemmed at least in part from an unpaid restaurant bill.

The prosecutor and defense attorney in Lu’s case would not provide details about Lu’s role. Lu did not make a statement and was handcuffed by a sheriff’s deputy after Los Angeles County Superior Court Judge Salvatore Sirna approved the sentence.

In February, Yunyao “Helen” Zhai was sentenced to 13 years for her role as the alleged ringleader of the attack as well as an assault on a second victim. Zhai, 20, had earlier pleaded guilty to kidnapping and assault in both attacks and inflicting great bodily injury in one of the attacks.

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Xinlei “John” Zhang, 19, received six years because of his lesser role in the two attacks.

According to preliminary hearing testimony, Zhang was present but did not directly participate other than fetching a pair of scissors that the others used to cut off the victim’s hair in the March 30 attack. They then forced her to eat the hair.

Yuhan “Coco” Yang, 19, who received 10 years for kidnapping and assault, as well as inflicting great bodily injury, participated only in the March 30 attack.

Zhai, Zhang and Yang were charged in June 2015 and prosecuted together. Lu, who was not arrested until December 2015, was prosecuted separately.

In juvenile court, two other teenagers have admitted to assault in one or both incidents. Authorities believe that additional teens involved in the incidents have fled the country.

A sheriff’s detective previously said that Wei Guo, 42, the father of a teenager allegedly involved in the bullying, was arrested on suspicion of trying to bribe a witness. He has since been charged. 

Zhang’s father, Manfan Zhang, who attended Tuesday’s sentencing, said afterward that his son should not have received twice as much time as Lu did.

“It was not fair. My son was wronged,” he said in Mandarin.

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In contrast to Tuesday’s hearing, the February sentencing turned dramatic when attorneys read statements from two of the defendants highlighting the perils of sending high school-aged children to live abroad without parental supervision.

Growing numbers of Chinese teenagers have been coming to the U.S. on their own, hoping to learn English and gain an edge on admission to an American university. They typically study at private high schools and rent rooms from local families.

“They sent me to the U.S. for a better life and a fuller education,” Zhai said of her parents in her statement.

“Along with that came a lot of freedom, in fact too much freedom … Here, I became lonely and lost. I didn’t tell my parents because I didn’t want them to worry about me.”

cindy.chang@latimes.com

Follow me on Twitter: @cindychangLA

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UPDATES:

3:24 p.m.: This article was updated with new details from Tuesday’s hearing and background about the case.

11:24 a.m.: This article has been updated to add the sentence from Tuesday’s hearing.

This article was originally published at 5 a.m.


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