A 29-year-old woman who allegedly pretended to be a teenager so she could attend a high school in New Jersey pleaded not guilty Monday to charges of falsifying documents, arguing she was merely seeking “a place of safety.”
Hyejeong Shin made headlines in January 2023 when she allegedly enrolled as a student and attended New Brunswick High School in New Jersey for four days, according to a police statement. The incident spurred protests from concerned students and parents who demanded answers from the school administration about how Shin was able to enroll, citing safety concerns.
The 29-year-old woman who pretended to be a teenager to enroll in a New Jersey high school pleaded not guilty in court on Monday. Her lawyers said she longed for the sense of safety she felt as a teenager at a Massachusetts boarding school. https://t.co/YBlSQ0oNBa
— The New York Times (@nytimes) March 20, 2023
Shin’s lawyers argued March 20 that, though her alleged actions might be perceived as “bizarre,” Shin was merely “trying to recreate the sense of safety she had felt as a student at a Massachusetts boarding school,” The New York Times reported. Shin, a legal immigrant from South Korea who came to the United States at the age of 16 to attend boarding school, is recently divorced and far from home, her lawyers contended.
“This entire case is more about my client’s desire to return to a place of safety and welcoming in an environment that she looks back on with fondness — and nothing more,” Shin’s lawyer, Darren M. Gelber, stated, according to The New York Times. (RELATED: Man Broke Into High School, Lived There For 2 Days, Stole Plow Truck Then Tried To Rob Department Store)
Shin graduated from Rutgers University as a “top-notch” student in 2019 with a degree in political science and a minor in Chinese and had been attempting to earn a master’s degree when she went through a “bitter divorce,” Henry Hong Jung, another of Shin’s lawyers, stated, according to The New York Times. During that time, Shin was reportedly unemployed and fell behind on her rent, allegedly owing $20,000.
“I’m no psychologist,” Gelber added, “but separated from her family and being in a different country — as well as a couple of other stressors in her life — may have caused her to act very uncharacteristically.”
“There are personal issues that she needs to resolve,” Jung agreed. “She’s been away from home a long time,” he added, according to the outlet.
After her arrest, New Brunswick police told parents there was no evidence Shin had intended to “bring harm or violence to the students, staff or faculty,” The New York Times reported.
Shin is due to appear back in court on May 15.