San Jose man recounts murder-suicide that left wife dead
Shane Coffman kissed his wife goodbye, and opened the garage door in his San Jose home — expecting to slip on his shoes, drive his stepdaughter to Chinese school, and face a typical Monday morning at work. Instead the electrical engineer faced his wife’s ex-boyfriend.
He had a gun. It was pointed right at Coffman.
Before Coffman’s five-hour ordeal was over, he had dodged a hail of bullets, sprinting down the street in his socks. Neighboring townhomes and a mobile home park were evacuated, and San Jose police flooded the area, believing Coffman’s wife was being held hostage.
But Ying “Brandi” He was dead, slain in her kitchen in front of her 9-year-old daughter. After fatally shooting her, Jian Ming “Nelson” Liang turned the gun on himself, according to police.
On Thursday, for the first time since the murder-suicide in their Montecito Vista townhouse, Coffman told his story in an exclusive interview with the Mercury News. He described how his pretty, cheerful wife had come into his life after leaving China and then her obsessive, troubled boyfriend. He described in detail what happened that day as the bullets cut past him, one tearing his earlobe. And he told of his grief and confusion that no one could save his wife.
“We were starting a very good life together,” Coffman said. “We just bought a house. We were elated. Life was good. Now I have to accept what happened and deal with the consequences. ”
“But I’m also
asking, ‘Is there something else that should have been done?’ ” he said. “I expected something could have been done right then to stop the torment of my wife.”
His family’s tragedy began that morning with Coffman facing the armed Liang.
“I froze, he froze,” Coffman, 35, said. “He was nervous, I think. He dropped his clip on the floor. I went for it. He picked it up and ran away to reload.”
Liang came back quickly, firing. Bullets whizzed past Coffman. His stepdaughter ran inside to hide. His wife phoned 911. It was 8:39 a.m.
Coffman ran inside. Liang fired again and again, chasing him out of the townhome. Coffman ran down the street, followed by Liang in his gold Lexus.
“I was thinking, ‘He wants to take me out first.’ ”
Then Liang appeared to drive away. Coffman ran back home, only to find it locked. He later realized Liang had somehow returned to the home first. Coffman decided to run for help at a neighbor’s.
His stepdaughter joined him minutes later, screaming, “Mommy’s bleeding all over the place.”
Police arrived. It was 8:49 a.m.
Try at establishing contact
The San Jose Police Department’s MERGE team — also known as SWAT — arrived at the scene soon after patrol officers. At this point, police believe the woman was dying or dead. But the elite team did not enter the home because there were no signs of shooting or life inside, sources told the Mercury News. Facing earlier reports of gun shots and then silence, they set up a perimeter, and tried unsuccessfully to establish contact. When they finally determined there were no threats, they went in.
Inside they found the two bodies.
Coffman is left with a stepdaughter and memories.
He and Brandi met seven years ago while she was waitressing. He was her regular customer and then her friend. He became her husband intwo years ago.
The couple had long been leery of Liang and worried he could be capable of violence. A 2003 stalking charge was dismissed against Liang for threatening to kill the two of them, even though Coffman said neither he nor his wife were called as witnesses.
Ying He and Liang came to the United States from China in 1999, Coffman said. They had a baby girl in the Bay Area on June 14, 2000. Liang sent the girl to live with his wealthy parents in Guangzhou, and because Ying He had pending immigration status, she couldn’t freely travel between the countries.
In 2006, Ying He discovered her daughter and Liang were living in Southern California. She also discovered, Coffman said, that her ex-boyfriend, a gambler, was short on cash.
“They made a deal,” Coffman said. “Brandi said she’d give Nelson some money and he said he’d give her their daughter.”
But Liang reneged on his part of the deal, Coffman said, and disappeared with the girl. Coffman and his wife hired an attorney to find Liang and fight for full custody. After about two years, Liang and the girl surfaced again in Southern California. In March, Liang didn’t pick his daughter up from school one day, and police reports show Liang told school officials in Arcadia that he no longer wanted to care for his child. He was soon arrested and pleaded no contest to child endangerment. The girl was put in state care.
Daughter home with Mom
Finally, on April 6, Ying He was able to bring her daughter home for the first time. They painted Easter eggs together. They went to therapy. They played ball in the yard. Ying He, by then a respiratory therapist at El Camino Hospital, took her daughter to work. Colleagues said she was beaming.
Liang still had visitation rights and weekly phone calls.
On Sunday, the day before the shooting, Liang called to speak with his daughter, asking her strangely specific questions about her schedule. Coffman believes Liang was casing the family for the attack.
When Coffman and his stepdaughter were about to go to New Concept Chinese School in Sunnyvale on Monday morning at 8:35 a.m., Liang was waiting.
Now, Coffman is trying to put back together his life, make funeral arrangements for a woman he calls “someone very special and a beautiful person inside,” and establish legal custody to raise his stepdaughter as his own.
“She’s a beautiful little girl,” Coffman said. “I’m going to provide for her the life that she deserves.”