A piano teacher whose dedication to her students was appreciated immensely by families across the Conejo Valley became the victim of an apparent murder-suicide Feb. 16 at her home in Westlake Village. An elderly man and his wife were found shot to death at their home in the 31400 block of Glenbridge Road atop the Westlake Trails neighborhood. The Los Angeles County Department of Medical Examiner-Coroner identified the two as Sam Chiashiang Lai, 75, and Caroline Min-ling Lai, 73, husband and wife.
Caroline Lai, who was a well-known classical piano teacher in the community for more than 40 years, started missing student lessons on Feb. 15.
“This was out of character for her as she is a great communicator with her students and their parents,” said Gina Amenta-Shin, whose son Nicholas was a student of Lai’s for the past two years.
“Multiple efforts were made by parents to contact her via cellphone, home phone, email and text message to no avail,” Amenta-Shin said.
When Lai missed more lessons on Friday, the families decided to notify authorities.
Investigators with the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department Homicide Bureau believe Sam Lai shot his wife before turning the gun on himself. Both received gunshots to the torso, investigators said.
Deputies received the concerned parents’ call around 6 p.m. Feb. 16 and decided to check on the Lais, Sgt. Robert Gray of the homicide bureau told The Acorn. Law enforcement arrived shortly after and pronounced the couple dead at the scene, Gray said.
“When (deputies) arrived they located a female Asian adult who had sustained a gunshot wound to the upper torso, and a male Asian adult who also had sustained a gunshot wound to the torso,” the sheriff’s department said in a statement.
Investigators were seen taking crime photos inside the home’s garage, where the incident is believed to have occurred. Deputies recovered the handgun at the scene.
The community of million-dollar homes lies in a quiet, rustic neighborhood in the hills east of Westlake Lake, where fence-lined trails often substitute as sidewalks.
Amenta-Shin said seven of Caroline Lai’s top students were preparing for a Certificate of Merit exam for the Music Teachers’ Association of California and face a written exam Feb. 24 and a performance test March 10.
“Their teacher was taken away from them at a crucial time as they are preparing for these important exams,” said Amenta- Shin. “Her death is a huge loss to our community.”
She said the Conejo Valley music-teacher community was coming together to help the students prepare for their upcoming exams.
Lai’s professional positions included president and director of the state Music Teachers’ Association and chair of the Southern California Junior Bach Festival. She studied piano pedagogy at New York State University at Binghamton.
“Mrs. Lai leaves behind a legacy of hundreds of students who continue to play classical piano music,” Amenta-Shin said.
There is no information available on Sam Lai, who is believed to have been retired.
The couple’s daughter, Sue- Jean, posted on Facebook that there is no memorial or service planned at the present time.