Penny, 15, was the youngest in the family. Growing up, her family says she was very neat, very talkative and very Americanized.
She thrived in this affluent suburb, but no one could have predicted what happened. Correspondent Erin Moriarty reports on this story, which first aired last April.
Mike Tobin, a reporter for the Cleveland Plain Dealer, says the problems began for the Chang family in 1998, when Penny had a summer job working alongside Scott Strothers, the best friend of her brother, Sean.
Strothers, 21, practically grew up at the Chang house and later went on to become Sean’s college roommate. Which is why no one was too concerned when he and Penny spent a lot of time together.
But the family didn’t realize how serious his feelings were. Strothers began a journal later that year that described his relationship with Penny.
“I think you see that in the journals where Penny, at least for the summer, was his life,” says Tobin. “In his journal, you’d see him talking about this girl, this wonderful thing and the object of his affection.”
There was only one problem. Penny didn’t feel the same way.
“I think she viewed him as just her older brother’s friend who she had hit it off and was friends with,” adds Tobin. “But you know, this wasn’t the love of her life by any stretch of the imagination.”
When the summer ended, and Penny began ignoring Strothers, the Chang family phone began ringing off the hook. The family claims he called 100 times a day – and that they had to disconnect the phone.
But things got worse.
“He tried to burn down the garage,” says Penny's sister, Joanne. “He put glue in my parents’ gas tank. He threw objects through the window, like little rocks.”
“He used a slingshot,” remembers Penny’s father, pointing to windows that had been broken at the house.
Days later, the police arrested Strothers. “He was following her,” says Shaker Heights police chief Walter Ugrinic. “He was keeping an eye on her.”
Strothers was charged with telephone harassment and misdemeanor arson. But right before sentencing, he voluntarily admitted himself to the Cleveland Clinic for observation.
But did he really want help? Or was it a legal tactic to show the court he was taking steps to correct his behavior?
Whatever his motive, Strothers stayed there for five weeks. He was released in 1998, on Thankgiving Day, after doctors determined he was no longer a threat. They released him even though the journal that he began there as part of his therapy contained some very threatening entries.
“It’s scary, it’s just frightening,” says Tobin. “You see this progression, this evolution in his mind of her as the sweet little girl to this evil object that has to be made to pay.”
The tone of Strother’s writing became increasingly menacing. “I think that my actions were a way to force myself to be an important part of her life, even though it was in a negative way,” reads Tobin from Strother’s journal. “I once thought, ‘Forget about me, bitch? I will make you remember me forever.’”
“And then the one I just, to this day, can’t get over,” says Tobin, “is ‘How cool and superior will you look when I blow your brains out into the ground.’”
And five months later, in broad daylight, across the street from the police station, that's exactly what Strothers did.