Wenliang Sun was a 26 year old international student at the University of Central Florida in Orlando. He was in the United States legally on non immigrant status as a student. He first drew attention when a University employee reported him as a student of concern. A friend is quoted as saying he was concerned about Sun even though he had never talked about hurting himself or anyone else. Sun’s roommate, Richard Blankenship, moved out after Sun showed him a rifle, chambered a round in to the weapon and pointed it at the wall in their apartment. Blankenship reported the incident to police. A few days after these reports, a school counselor said Sun had made some “unusual comments” during an interview. The details of the comments were not revealed. Sun made no direct threats against the school, students, or faculty that have been reported.
Besides the facts that his behavior was concerning to fellow students, there were other things that seemed to be unusual.
*In late January and early February, Sun bought a LWRC 300 Blackout rifle and a .308 Ruger Precision rifle and approximately 200 rounds of ammunition. The Ruger rifle was purchased a few days after police interviewed him. When officers discovered the rifle, it had been equipped with a bipod and, in the words of the police, some “very, very expensive optics”.
*He paid cash for a $68,000 Corvette, but strangely he didn’t drive the “Vette when he picked up guns.
*Sun attempted to alter his appearance by dying his hair blond and he also gained considerable weight.
*According to his associates, Sun was somewhat of a recluse and seldom came out of his room. Police believe he was dealing with some type of stressful issues, but did not provide specifics. An overload of stress is many times a precursor to violence.
* Sun posted a new Facebook profile picture with the caption, “Shoot selfies, not animals”. The campus Police Chief Richard Beary found this to be contradictory to Sun’s purchase buying two rifles alleged to be weapons for hunting.
*Parkland school, where a school massacre occurred, is only about 200 miles from Sun’s home town of Orlando. He was already on police’s radar screen a few weeks before the Parkland tragedy.
Police interviewed Sun on February 2 and he admitted to buying the LWRC 300 Blackout rifle. He said he had the rifle in a storage facility and he had never shot the weapon. He stated that he just liked playing with the weapon and looking at it. One of the investigators offered to keep the gun for Sun just to make sure it was safe but Sun said it was safe in the storage facility.
He was asked if he was thinking of harming himself or anyone else and Sun replied, “No, never”.
When talking about himself, Sun said he had been in the U.S. for 3 years and likes to play video games, watch movies, and travel. He said he goes home to China and spends a month there with his parents once a year. His father is a hospital administrator and his mother is a doctor. Text messages indicate Sun’s father bought the Corvette for him. He tells the police the car is considered a “cheap car” in his country.
The same day he bought the second rifle, February 7, school officials attempted to locate him because he had violated several requirements of the program that allowed him to legally reside in our country but he would not return their calls… Violations can cause students to lose their legal status in the United States. He refused to return phone calls, even though he was aware of the regulations and the consequence of ignoring them. In other words, he knew his visa was about to be revoked.
The same day Sun bought the second rifle and 5 days after his initial interview by the police, he was arrested by federal authorities. He was arrested for possessing the firearms. Once he lost his nonimmigrant status and his visa was revoked, it was illegal for firearms to be in his possession.
On March 21 a judge presiding over the case ordered Sun to return to China and he will not be allowed in the U.S. for a period of at last 10 years.
Any of the facts revealed in this investigation could seem harmless when you look at them individually.
Consider his purchase of weapons, one of them being a sniper rifle complete with a bipod and expensive scopes and the other an assault type rifle. The firearms were supplemented with a couple of hundred rounds of ammunition. A person with his non immigrant status who also has a hunting license can possess a gun. Nothing wrong with this, a lot of people enjoy guns!
His demeanor was threatening enough that his roommate moved out and a school counselor was concerned by things he said. Sun exhibited sudden changes in behavior, such as excessive absences from class. He avoided school authorities when they attempted to contact him. Most college students have cut a class or two and if you have been cutting class, you probably don’t really want to talk to college officials. The difference in this instance, of course, is the fact that he knew his visa could be cancelled for these actions.
He altered his appearance. So what?
Sun had a sharp new sports car but he drove something else when he picked up the last rifle. He can drive any car owns or someone says he can borrow, just like anybody else, right? The question in this case is, was he trying to keep the Corvette from being associated with the gun purchase?
Police say there was evidence that Sun was dealing with some type of stressful personal issues. Everybody has a certain amount of stress in their lives but most folks don’t go out and start killing people.
As we said earlier, if you look at all of these things individually, each one may seem innocent enough, however when you put everything together it presents a very disturbing picture. Sun gets a hunting license so he can purchase firearms even though his conversation on social media indicates he disapproves of shooting animals. He buys a sniper rifle and all the gadgets to go with it and also buys an assault rifle along with 200 rounds of ammunition. Then he tells investigators he has never shot the gun and keeps it in a storage facility. His behavior is disturbing enough that his roommate moves out and at least three people contact the authorities to report his activities. He changes his appearance and maybe attempts to distance his main vehicle from his activities. He engages in activities he knows will get his visa cancelled. Perhaps Sun was preparing to take flight or disappear and for whatever reason didn’t care if he had a visa or not. Maybe he was planning to do something that would result in his death.
No doubt there will be those who will say Wenliang Sun was treated unfairly by the authorities. He didn’t really harm anybody and we do have freedom of speech in America.
The difference in this situation and others is the fact that Sun broke the law by possessing firearms after his visa was cancelled. This allowed police to take action. In many cases there have been troubling circumstances but no laws were broken and in our country the police are very limited in what actions they can take if no law has been violated. This is one of the core beliefs that make America the greatest country in the world. Sadly, in some instances it results in death and destruction.
We have already seen divisive and sometimes violent disagreements in reference to such issues as gun ownership and freedom of speech. If the number and frequency of mass murders and extremist attacks continue to grow, the American people may have to decide if some civil liberties are worth sacrificing in exchange for safety. We should all pray that our judges and elected officials have the wisdom to make good decisions regarding these issues.
The author, Jim Leach, formerly served as Director of Criminal Investigations for the Tennessee Highway Patrol. His first book, “You Can Tell ME, a simple guide to effective interviewing”, can be found at Amazon.com