Jiverly Wong, the gunman whose bloody rampage in upstate New York left 14 people dead, was plagued by depression and frustration that likely sent him over the edge, his sister said Monday.
Speaking exclusively to TODAY’s Meredith Vieira by satellite, Wong’s sister Nga, whose last name and whereabouts are being withheld, said her brother had a rocky time making the transition to life in the U.S. after arriving in the early 1990s from their native Vietnam.
“I loved him and cared very much,” Nga told Vieira. “Although we didn’t live in the same house for the last 20 years, we had occasional communications.
“I can see that he was very depressed from losing his job and he was very frustrated with his English-speaking skills. He didn’t share any of his thoughts and feelings and he kept all of his frustration inside, and didn’t want to share with anybody else in the family.”
Nga added, “I am so sorry he acted in a terribly inappropriate way to his pressure.”
Wong, 41, etched his name in infamy Friday when he entered the American Civic Association immigration center in Binghamton, N.Y., armed with 9 mm and .45-caliber pistols. He shot two receptionists, killing one of them, and then entered a classroom where Roberta King was leading a group of students in English lessons. Wong shot and killed King and 11 students, including immigrants from China, Haiti, Pakistan, Brazil, Iraq and his native Vietnam.
As Wong heard police sirens wailing outside the center, he turned one of his guns on himself and fired a bullet into his head.
Wong’s suicide prompted Binghamton Police Chief Joseph Zikuski to comment, “He must have been a coward.”
Those words stung Nga, she told Vieira.
“I am upset the officers expressed in his anger statement that he was a coward, because he did not know him,” Nga told Vieira. “I can see my brother lost his rational thinking. Of course I’m upset to have him thought of that way.”
Who was Jiverly Wong?
Wong, an ethnic Chinese raised in Vietnam, sought a better life in America, but his transition was marked by a series of dead-end jobs and brushes with the law. In 1992, he was arrested on charges of forgery while living in Los Angeles. He eventually relocated to Binghamton, where state lawmen investigated him in 1999 after an informant told police Wong was a drug abuser who was hatching a plan to rob a bank.
He relocated back to California for several years, but returned to Binghamton in 2005. He held down a job at a vacuum cleaner assembly plant until being laid off last November. Wong’s co-workers say he often talked of his fascination with guns and his time spent at a local shooting range. And they also said his psyche may have taken a hit by relentless teasing he suffered over his broken English.
Nga added that Wong’s getting laid off from work likely caused him to snap. “When he lost his job, because he could not speak well, he felt that it would be very hard for him to get another job,” she said. “He was frustrated. He was scared.”
To Vieira, Nga took the opportunity to apologize on behalf of her family for Wong’s murder spree.
“My family was very shocked to hear the news and very sorry for all the victims and their families,” she told Vieira.