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Crime

Unarmed Grandfather Killed by Security Guard in His Neighborhood While Playing Pokémon Go

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Jiansheng Chen
The Chen family

A 60-year-old unarmed grandfather playing Pokémon Go near his home was killed last week by a security guard patrolling the area, following some kind of verbal altercation or possible language barrier, PEOPLE confirms. 

The security guard, through an attorney, claims the shooting was in self-defense, according to the Virginian-Pilot.

Jiansheng Chen was sitting in his minivan on Jan. 26 outside the community clubhouse at River Walk, his neighborhood in Chesapeake, Virginia, when a guard confronted him as he played the popular, GPS-based virtual reality game, according to Chesapeake police.

The River Walk homeowner’s association said in a statement that security is paid to patrol the community’s common areas, but a spokesman with the management company says guards are supposed to be unarmed.

“An altercation ensued and the security guard shot the victim,” Chesapeake police said in a news release. 

Chen was shot about 11:10 p.m. that Thursday while sitting in the driver’s seat of his vehicle, the family’s attorney, Greg Sandler, tells PEOPLE. Sandler says he was shot at repeatedly. He was pronounced dead at the scene, according to police.

“There are five or six bullet holes in a confined pattern through the driver’s side window at almost chest height,” Sandler says. “It’s an astounding response by a security person to really anything.”

However, the security company that employs the guard, Citywide Protection Services, claims another version of events and that “there was a history of problems between the company and Mr. Chen,” Citywide’s attorney told the Virginian-Pilot.

The attorney, Andrew Sacks, did not provide further evidence of the alleged past problems but said a statement would be released soon to “set the record straight.” He plans a Monday news conference to address the shooting, according to the Pilot.

“We are going to have a very strong, hard hitting, very accurate, very credible and fully documented statement about what actually happened,” Sacks said. 

He told the paper that a vehicle could be used as a deadly weapon. (Citywide has not returned messages for comment and Sacks could not immediately be reached by PEOPLE.)

No charges have been brought against the security guard and the investigation is ongoing, a Chesapeake police spokeswoman says. She says all possibilities remain open as authorities continue gathering information.

Chen did not have a weapon on him or in the minivan, according to police. The spokeswoman says the altercation before the shooting was not physical, reportedly describing it as some kind of “disagreement,” but she says she does not have more details. 

Chen’s English was severely limited, so “there probably would not have been a conversation” before the shooting, Sandler says.

The police spokeswoman confirmed investigators are looking into claims that the minivan was a factor in the shooting, but she could not confirm or deny Sack’s’ statement that Chen had a history of incidents with Citywide.

Sacks told the Pilot a second person was with the guard that Thursday night and witnessed part of the altercation, which Chesapeake police confirm.

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Jiansheng Chen (center)
The Chen family

Victim Played Pokémon to Bond with Family

A retired chef and restaurant owner, Chen lived with his brother and his family at River Walk and started playing Pokémon Go so he could “connect” with his grandchildren, nieces and nephews, Sandler says. 

(According to local reports, the neighborhood’s clubhouse, near the shooting, is a gym in Pokémon Go — a valuable location for players.) 

On that Thursday, Chen dropped his sister-in-law off at home about 10:30 p.m., telling family members he was heading back out to play the game, Sandler says. About 12:30 a.m. Friday, Chen’s brother went out looking for him when he failed to return his calls, Sandler says: “He drove about a minute and that’s when he came upon the crime scene.”

Chen’s family, including his two adult children, a son and a daughter, “are devastated” to lose the man they described as persevering, open-hearted and wise. Chen was the first of his relatives to immigrate to the U.S. from Fujian, China, his relatives tell PEOPLE.

“It is a story told by my grandmother when I was younger that my uncle dropped out of school shortly after grade six — not because he didn’t want to continue his education but to support his family, and at age 14 he did so as a mine worker during a rough time shortly after [the] Chinese Revolution,” one family member says, via Sandler. “It is a reminder for what he had sacrificed for us and a motivation for our education.

“He is a man with few words but proves himself with actions. … He never talks about his past or his sacrifices and [is] constantly moving forward.”

“Everyone enjoys his presence and his unexpected visits, which we will never see again,” the relative says.

Sandler says the Chen family has “been given no explanation as to why this could have possibly happened.” He says they are hoping for an arrest soon.

River Walk said in its statement it has terminated its contract with Citywide Protection.

“We are fully cooperating with authorities as they continue the investigation,” the homeowner’s association said. The management company spokesman says they have also been in touch with Chen’s family, via Sandler.

While police have not released specifics about what led to the shooting, Sandler says another witness told him she saw what seemed to two security guards near Chen’s minivan.

According to that witness, he says, one of the people “was standing in front of the van and fired somewhere between five and 10 shots directly through the driver’s front windshield of the van.”

Sandler adds, “I cannot imagine why there would have been any kind of altercation or confrontation.”

He says Chen lived less than a mile from where he died. 

“Part of the irony is that the private security officer was supposed to protect the residents,” Sandler says, “and Mr. Chen was one of those residents.”

• With reporting by ADAM CARLSON