For a while, Jennifer Pan's parents regarded her as their "golden" child.

The young Canadian woman, who lived in the city of Markham just north of Toronto, was a straight A student who won scholarships and early acceptance to college. True to her father's wishes, she graduated from the University of Toronto's prestigious pharmacology programme and went on to a blood-testing lab job at SickKids hospital.

Pan's accomplishments used to make Bich Ha and Huei Hann Pan brim with pride. After all, they had arrived in Toronto as refugees from Vietnam, working as labourers for a car parts manufacturer so their two kids could have the bright future they couldn't attain for themselves.

But Pan's perfect fate was all an elaborate lie. She failed to graduate from high school, let alone from the University of Toronto. Her trial, for plotting with hitmen to kill her parents, ended in January, and she's serving a long sentence. But the troubled young woman's full story is just now being told by a classmate.


In a story in Toronto Life magazine last week, reporter Karen Ho detailed the intricate web of deception her high school classmate at Mary Ward Catholic Secondary School in north Scarborough spun to prevent her parents discovering the unimaginable: their golden child was failing.

Using court documents and interviews, Ho pieced together Pan's descent to a chronic liar who forged report cards, scholarship letters and university transcripts to preserve an image of perfection.

Their high school, Ho wrote, "was the perfect community for a student like Jennifer. A social butterfly with an easy, high-pitched laugh, she mixed with guys, girls, Asians, Caucasians, jocks, nerds, people deep into the arts. Outside of school, Jennifer swam and practised the martial art of wushu". But Ho would "discover later that Jennifer's friendly, confident persona was a facade, beneath which she was tormented by feelings of inadequacy, self-doubt and shame". Among the signs few saw were cuts on her forearms, self-inflicted. The real Jennifer never enrolled in university, never graduated from high school.

"Jennifer's parents assumed their daughter was an A student," wrote Ho. In truth, she earned mostly Bs - respectable for most kids but unacceptable in her strict household. So Jennifer doctored her report cards throughout high school. She received early acceptance to Ryerson University in Toronto, but then failed calculus in her final year and could not graduate. The university withdrew its offer.

Desperate, she lied to her parents that she'd be starting at Ryerson in the northern autumn. She said her plan was to do two years of science, then transfer over to U of T's pharmacology programme, which was her father's hope. Hann was delighted and bought her a laptop. Jennifer collected used biology and physics textbooks. When it came to tuition, she doctored papers and convinced her dad she'd won a US$3000 ($4500) scholarship. Every day she headed downtown. To class, her parents assumed. Instead, she went to public libraries. When it was time for the University of Toronto graduation ceremony, Pan told her parents there weren't enough tickets for them to attend. But they became suspicious, began tailing her and learned the truth. When she confessed, life in the Pan household began to unravel.

When Pan's parents learned that all of their efforts had been for naught, they placed strict curbs on their now-adult daughter. No more cellphone. No more laptop. No more clandestine dates with boyfriend Daniel Wong.

While she eventually gained more freedom, Pan stayed angry. She thought about how much better her life would be without them. And so, with Wong's help, she plotted to kill the two people who had made her life like "house arrest".

In a planned murder disguised to look like a robbery gone awry, Pan played the part of helpless witness as three hired hitmen, David Mylvaganam, Lenford Crawford and allegedly Eric Carty, fatally shot her mother and severely wounded her father. She called 911, distraught, to bolster the lie.

But police investigating the case caught on within weeks. This January, an Ontario court found Pan and her three co-accused (Wong, Crawford and Mylvaganam) guilty of first-degree murder and attempted murder. All received life sentences with no chance of parole for 25 years. Carty will be tried separately.

The Toronto Life piece struck a powerful chord with Asian immigrant children in Canada and the US who are sharing tales of high expectations and crippling fear on social media.

Jennifer Lee, a sociology professor at the University of California Irvine who specialises in Asian-American life in America, said it is wrong to attribute Pan's troubles to "tiger parenting". Her story is an extreme case, said Lee, co-author of The Asian American Achievement Paradox.

"I think there's a broader discussion to be had about the expectations teachers, peers and institutions place on people like Jennifer to fit that stereotype of the exceptional Asian-American student."