Originally created 01/18/01

Art student dies in shooting



SAVANNAH - A 28-year-old graduate student, who went to a pay phone Monday to call his mother in Taiwan, was gunned down while standing on the street.

He was shot in the head just before 11 p.m. and died from his wounds at about 6:30 a.m Tuesday. The shooting occurred at Bull and State streets in downtown Savannah near Wright Square.

Chih-Chun Chang, who went by the name Jacob, started school in Savannah in fall 1998. He was a computer art graduate student at the Savannah College of Art and Design.

Savannah police said they have no leads in the case, no suspects and no motive.

"I really have nothing to suggest what it would be yet," Detective Ron Abbott said.

There were no witnesses to the shooting - the third homicide in six days in the city. An autopsy is expected later this week at the Georgia Bureau of Investigations Crime Lab in Atlanta.

Friends said Mr. Chang had less than a year of school left.

"It shocked me that someone just killed him out of the blue," said D'Lun Wong, who just graduated from SCAD with an undergraduate degree in computer art. "He wouldn't bother anyone."

Mr. Chang was a quiet man who worked diligently, especially at the school's computer lab, Mr. Wong said. He wanted to be a character animator and hoped to remain in the United States to work after graduation, Mr. Wong said. One project Mr. Chang recently worked on involved the transformation of a caterpillar into a butterfly, Mr. Wong said.

"It was a metaphor for life," he said.

SCAD has been working with the Taiwanese consulate in Atlanta to arrange for Mr. Chang's family to travel to the United States.

"This is a real tragedy, no matter who it is - a SCAD student or whoever," said Pamela S. Afifi, the school's vice president for admission. "It's a senseless act, and I'm terribly sad about it."

Asian students make up about 50 percent of the school's international student population, and approximately 270 students from Asia and the Middle East attend the school, Ms. Afifi said.

Mr. Chang was one of six students who rent rooms in a West 36th Street home.

Nancy Lynn, who owns the house and also lives there, said Mr. Chang kept to himself and worked hard for his classes.

"He was a very talented young man," she said.

Many of his projects hang on the walls of his room.

The Asian students at SCAD know the safety precautions they should take in the city, Mr. Wong said.

"Because this town is not safe, we know we shouldn't go out at nighttime alone," he said.

SCAD officials say they stress safety among their students and offer a variety of security measures, such as free safety escorts; a 100-person trained security staff; and a recently implemented campus-wide student, faculty and staff ID card program.

"It's something we continually assess," Ms. Afifi said.

Last year, a 22-year-old SCAD furniture design major was killed in an attempted armed robbery at his apartment on East 60th Street. Dominic Piccini died in May after a gunman shot through his apartment door. No arrest has been made in that case.

Despite the two recent homicides, Ms. Afifi said she doesn't believe the school's enrollment will be affected.

"We're really fortunate that in 22 years, we haven't had an incident of violent crime on the campus," she said. "Savannah really is, by and large to me, a safer place to live (than other cities)."

David Perkins, the owner of State Street Cafe, said he thought crime was decreasing in the downtown area.

Mr. Perkins was walking down State Street on Tuesday morning to get to work when he noticed a small, red stain near the pay phone. It wasn't until Mr. Perkins' wife called him later that he found out someone had been killed just down the street from his business.

"I have never felt, or had reason to feel, it was unsafe," said Mr. Perkins, whose business closes daily at 3:30 p.m. "The crime, in my opinion, has been good. Fifteen years ago, I wouldn't have opened a restaurant downtown."

Leon Gordon, the owner of Captain Video, also on State Street, had a different perspective.

His store is open until 10 p.m. on weekends and 8 p.m. on weekdays.

"I wasn't totally surprised," Mr. Gordon said. "I'm aware that crime is ongoing downtown. I'm just sort of left in awe about it.

"In the last couple of years, it seems it's getting closer to my front door, and now it's only three doors down."