Christian Hall was always talking.
His voice filled his parents’ home as he made calls to friends and family members, preferably via FaceTime because he liked to see them. He yelled questions to an Alexa speaker, asking about the world’s largest and smallest countries and whatever else crossed his mind.
At church, he’d still be talking to others in the congregation as his parents, Gareth and Fe, waited in the car.
Every scenario, from jogging around his neighborhood to waiting in line at Disney, was an opportunity for a conversation with the people he came in contact with.
For Christmas last year, one of Gareth’s cousins, Nicole Henriquez, got Christian a Facebook Portal, so that he could see her husband and their children on the screen, too, when they talked.
He never got to use it.
On Dec. 30, 2020, 19-year-old Christian Hall was killed by the Pennsylvania State Police. He had called 911 about a possibly suicidal person on a highway overpass.
fter about 90 minutes, he was shot with his hands up while holding a realistic-looking pellet gun. Dashcam footage released last month confirmed close-up what a more distant bystander video already appeared to show: Hall did not point the weapon at the troopers before they fired, contrary to what the police claimed.
The Halls’ home is quiet now, though Christian is still visible everywhere in it, through family photos and the items he left behind.
His jacket hangs on the back of the dining room chair where he left it the day before he died.
Still on a whiteboard are the equations Christian wrote to try to help Gareth after he substituted for a math teacher and found the students using unfamiliar methods to solve problems.
The Halls did not decorate for Christmas this year. The only evidence of the holiday are the gifts their son got from work last year — fudge, a card addressed to Christian, a maroon tumbler with a Christmas tree on it — sitting on the round dinette table they haven’t used since his death.
Christian was an ‘old soul’
Like many people, Christian Hall’s world became significantly more virtual in 2020. He was still working — primarily at the Giant supermarket in Bartonsville, though he had two or three jobs at times — but socially, the pandemic was tough for the outgoing teenager.
“The lack of social touch with the family, the face-to-face with family, with his friends, it just took a toll on him,” Fe said.
All that talking wasn’t so that he could hear himself. He was “intentional” in his conversations, Fe said.
“He wasn’t just asking ‘How are you? How’s your day?’ just to be flippant about it,” she said. If she mentioned a problem, he’d follow up on it later.
Henriquez — one of numerous extended family members with whom Christian kept in contact, without any nagging or urging from his parents — described him as an “old soul.” He wrote letters, and they scheduled FaceTime calls.
“When he spoke to you, it was very intentional. He looked in your eyes and he wanted to understand what you’re saying, and you understand what he was saying,” Henriquez said.
They talked about everything from clothes to his goals and dreams.
“He told me that he wanted to be a rapper. So I just said, ‘Well, you know, that’s hard to be. So we’ll have to practice on that.’ He did say he was interested in the law,” said Henriquez, who is a lawyer.
The conversations were “refreshing,” she said, and “really made me want to slow down and really listen to other people.”
On family nights, he didn’t take his friends’ calls, and he didn’t want anyone calling his parents then, either.
“I remember one time we were watching a movie, and Fe kept going on her phone, or her iPad or something, and he just got upset. He just got up and left. He said, ‘OK, you’re not with us, so I’m not doing this.’ And he would not come back,” Gareth said.
It was the kind of behavior that distinguished him from most 19-year-olds, like his habit of taking a hot breakfast — toast, eggs, bacon — up to Fe in her home office, or the time he took his break to introduce his father to his coworkers when Gareth stopped at Giant.
“I mean, what 19-year-old does that? Most of the 19-year-olds I know, they see their parent come in, they’re hiding,” Gareth said.
“There’s so much I could say about him, but what I definitely have to say is that he loved very hard, and that’s for everyone. He was very passionate, like in terms of how much love he had for his family, for everyone,” Henriquez said.
When he went through a breakup, that “was also very intense for him,” because of how much he cared, Fe said.
He’d been talking about his ex-girlfriend the day before his death. Gareth does not believe his son wanted to die.
“Do I believe Christian was suicidal? No. But I believe he planned on putting on a good show,” Gareth told Spotlight PA. “He was going to show her that he was going to go beyond what that guy was going to do.”
When police got to the Route 33 overpass above Interstate 80, Hall was standing on the edge.
A series of troopers made de-escalation and negotiation attempts, and Christian did step down from the barrier.
But there was no outside mental health professional, which the Halls believe should be a standard part of the response to these calls, and no less-lethal projectiles were used.
State police fired in two rounds; none of the first bullets hit Christian. A corporal and a trooper both fired the second time, striking Hall with three bullets.
“He was by himself on that bridge,” Fe said. “They could hide behind their cars. There were so many alternatives. Why wasn’t a single alternative used?”
Processing a life without Christian
Gareth and Fe Hall have felt disrespected by authorities for the past year, starting with a 45-minute wait at the state police barracks the day their son was killed.
About 20 minutes in, Christian’s ex-girlfriend called and told them she’d heard that shots were fired.
“That’s when Fe started yelling at the people behind the desk, ‘Get them out here now.’ And they still made us wait,” Gareth said.
Later that day, at the hospital where Christian had been pronounced dead, the coroner’s office began asking whether he’d left a suicide note.
“Now, we are trying to process the fact that our son is no longer with us. Our son, who my wife took to work that day. The son that I spoke to around noon. We’re trying to wrap our heads around the fact that he’s gone,” Gareth said. “And you’re asking me if he was suicidal. You’re asking me if he left a note. Dude, this is not the time.”
In the following days, the investigators’ use of Hall’s phone made it look like he was still active on social media, “to the point where people were calling us, and messaging us, ‘Is he really dead? Because I see him live on Messenger,’” Gareth said.
Fe recalls seeing that telltale green dot “days into January.”
When the Monroe County district attorney’s office announced it would hold a press conference about its findings in the case, there was no advance warning for the Halls.
The footage shown at that press conference blurred Christian in his final moments, the seconds when the police had said he’d pointed the gun at them. The shooting was determined by the DA’s office to be justified.
“If they were honest about it from the start, I can tell you right now I wouldn’t have the amount of anger that I have right now,” Gareth said of the state police.
“We’d still be angry. It’s still going to be difficult,” Fe said, adding that “the pain’s compounded” by what Gareth called a “coverup.”
The Pennsylvania State Police did not release the unredacted footage when the Pocono Record made a records request. The Halls’ lawyers obtained it via subpoena, and the video was published in a Spotlight PA/NBC News partnership.
Their lawyers are Ben Crump and Devon Jacob, who routinely work on high-profile cases such as George Floyd’s murder.
Fe questions whether a stereotype about Asians could have led authorities to think the Halls wouldn’t speak out or hire well-known attorneys.
“I feel like they saw him as Asian,” Fe said about the police, “and there’s a generalization out there that Asians are quiet. Is it possible that they’re looking at him as Asian? Is the thought, you know, ‘He’s Asian, his family, they’re not going to fight, they’re not going to do anything. They’re just going to walk away and deal with it.’ I don’t know what’s in their minds. But is it possible that that’s how they felt?”
Christian was born in China and adopted as a baby by Gareth, who is Black and Latino, and Fe, who is Filipino.
“Someone asked me, ‘Do you think things would have been different if he was Black?’ I had to honestly tell them, ‘I think that’s why they gave him 90 minutes. If he was Black, he probably would have had maybe 20,’” Gareth said. “That’s my sentiment as a Black man in this country. I think his being Chinese is what got him the 90 minutes.”
Faith carries the Hall family
What keeps the Halls going through their grief and anger is their faith.
“Gareth and I are Christians. And it is our faith in God that is keeping us going. And that faith, and knowing, and trusting, and having the confidence that he is with God,” Fe said.
“He is in a better place, right, he is having the best time of his life. I mean, he has no problems. He has no bills. He is with his maker. He is with his creator,” she continued. “I don’t know what eternity is like, but with Christian being very inquisitive, I know that he is out there, probably asking God all kinds of questions and he’s getting his answers.”
While there is some comfort in this, “for selfish reasons, I just want him here,” Fe said.
She asks God questions, too: “Where were you when he was on that bridge? Did you abandon him? Why did you abandon him? Why did you leave him? Why did that happen?”
She doesn’t expect to receive answers during her life on Earth, but she does trust that there’s a purpose for her son’s life and death, and that her purpose is linked to his.
“We all have a purpose. And perhaps the purpose for his life, and the purpose for his death, is so that change will come,” she said. Change won’t bring Christian back, but it might result in a better outcome for someone else.
“Maybe that is his purpose. And maybe the purpose for my life is to do this, you know, and talk about him,” Fe said.
Henriquez has thrown herself into the cause too, believing that change is what Christian would have wanted.
“I’m not at all a social media person, but I learned it just for this, because I just feel like the love that Christian had for us, and the passion that he had, I had to bring that same energy,” she said.
Adoptee mental health has become one of her top priorities, and she wants all adoptees and their families to be offered resources such as therapy.
“If they don’t need it, they don’t need it. But give them the resources, because it is a trauma in and of itself to be separated from your family, even if your family didn’t want you,” she said. “Maybe that’s even more of a reason to have it, because you have to deal with the fact of being rejected. As much as your adopted family’s loving and everything, you still have that loss. And without that, I think most adopted families, innocently, don’t realize the trauma. And they believe that they’re doing everything they can, but that missing piece is not because they’re doing anything wrong.”
Christian Hall’s legacy
The Halls want mental health professionals to respond to calls like Christian’s, or to accompany police when they respond, “because I do believe that most people, when they see a person in uniform, they get threatened,” Fe said. “They’re afraid, they get threatened, they get afraid for their life.”
A mental health professional, not in uniform, would “get a better response” from someone in crisis, Fe said. “They would talk to that person more than they would a police officer.”
Christian Hall’s family also wants to see an independent investigation of his death.
“I find it absolutely crazy that the district attorney, who works hand-in-hand with the police, has jurisdiction over whether or not to turn over an investigation about the very cops that he works with,” Gareth said.
Under Pennsylvania law, the state attorney general can only conduct an outside investigation into these cases if the local DA requests it.
That rarely happens, not just in Monroe County but across Pennsylvania: Spotlight PA reported last month that out of at least 108 fatal use-of-force cases since 2017, three have been sent to Attorney General Josh Shapiro’s office.
Christian’s death “has to mean something,” Fe said.
“We don’t want other families to go through what we are doing, because the loss of a child — it’s not just one life that is lost. I feel that I’ve lost my life. I feel that my husband lost his life. The life that we knew is gone and we will never get it back. We don’t know how to move on. It’s just very difficult to think that it could happen to someone else, and we don’t want anybody to go through what our family is going through.”
For two decades, everything Gareth and Fe did was for their son, including moving from New York City out to Pennsylvania, where they could afford a house with a yard.
“Everything that we did was for him, and I think that that’s what parents are for. That’s our role as parents, is to leave a legacy for our child. He was the reason why we woke up in the morning and went to work. He was the reason why we wanted to pay our mortgage, so that we have a legacy to leave him,” Fe said. “These are all material things, I know that.”
That love is still the motivating factor in their lives. But it’s Christian’s legacy that they carry forward now, and the impact, they hope, will be far more than material.
Kathryne Rubright is a reporter covering the environment, northeast Pa. politics, and local news. She is based at the Pocono Record. Reach her at [email protected]