Imposter caught

May 24, 2007, 12:00 a.m.

Azia Kim was like any other Stanford freshman. She graduated from one of California’s most competitive high schools last June, moved into the dorms during New Student Orientation, talked about upcoming tests and spent her free time with friends.

The only problem is that Azia Kim was never a Stanford student.

Kim, an 18-year-old from Orange County who graduated from Fullerton’s Troy High School, lived in Kimball throughout fall and winter quarter. She lived in Okada, the Asian-American theme dorm, until Monday night, when University staff finally caught onto her ruse.

Friends aren’t sure of her motive for sneaking onto campus and living a lie, but many speculate that she felt pressure from overbearing parents to attend Stanford – regardless of whether she was admitted.

What Kim’s friends do know is that they are scared and angry that someone slipped through the cracks for eight months.

“Personally, I don’t feel safe now that Stanford allowed this to happen and that they’re not doing anything to ensure the safety of their students,” said Amy Zhou ’08, Kim’s roommate in Okada. “I think something’s definitely wrong with the system if this could happen.”

Kim declined comment for this story, unless the newspaper agreed to withhold her name. She suggested, but then declined, postponing publication one day in exchange for speaking on the record.

Kim started her con on Sept. 18, 2006, the day before New Student Orientation began. She told Kimball roommates Jenssy Rojina ’09 and Missy Penna ’09, a star softball pitcher, that she was a freshman who was temporarily out of housing due to a technical mixup, according to Zhou.

Rojina and Penna, who both declined comment, believed Kim’s story and let her sleep in their room. Kim apparently told Rojina that she moved into Kimball because she disliked her assigned roommate. Kim squatted in the 210-resident dorm – splitting her time between her “room” and the Kimball lounge – for the majority of fall and winter quarter.

“’I ate with this girl, I went to San Francisco with this girl, she was like my sister’ – that’s what Rojina said to me,” said a friend of Rojina’s. “She told me that [Kim] crashed there every night.”

But come spring quarter, Kim’s welcome in Kimball was wearing thin, so she set out to find a new room. Okada resident Jennifer Lee ’08 told her that Zhou’s roommate was going to Japan for the quarter, creating a vacancy in the one-room double.

“I remember she came to my room because the door was open and she was asking if anyone wanted a roommate,” said Lee, Okada’s ethnic theme associate. “She seemed like a pretty typical Stanford student, dressed in jeans and a T-shirt. Not really suspecting anything, I just told her the rooms that were available.”

Kim moved into Okada 108 on Apr. 18. She told student staff that Stanford Housing had approved her transfer from Roble because she had more friends on East Campus.

“At RA training, this will be one of those stories that you would never expect to happen,” said a resident assistant who lived with Kim. “It’s kind of impressive, how she was able to figure everything out and trick so many people.”

Still, Kim had neither a Stanford ID nor a key, forcing her to sneak into meals and enter her room through its window, which overlooked the Munger construction pit, the Wilbur parking lot and a dumpster, three feet off the ground. Zhou never noticed, as she spent nearly all her nights in her boyfriend’s room.

“She took off the screen and always left one of the windows wide open and the blinds up,” Zhou said. “I just guessed she always wanted a breezy room.”

To avoid suspicion while in Okada, Kim pretended to be a sophomore majoring in human biology, going as far as to buy textbooks an study with friends for tests she would never take. Residents of the 94-person dorm were none the wiser.

“She really knew her stuff, and really knew the schedule,” Zhou said. “For HumBio, she would say, ‘I have a midterm Monday in this room,’ and I knew that was true because my friends are HumBio [students].”

Last Sunday, Okada RA Soo Kim ’08 triggered the beginning of the end at the weekly staff meeting. An Otero RA told her that Azia Kim had claimed to live in Otero. Soo Kim was suspicious and emailed Housing on Monday. Only then – eight months after Azia Kim first moved into Kimball – did the authorities finally realize what had happened.

“It’s kind of crazy that it was under our radar for so long,” said Soo Kim. “I couldn’t even imagine a squatter situation. That was never anything that I was conscious of.”

It took Zhou even longer to find out the truth – she said that Azia Kim broke into her email account and permanently deleted emails from Housing that explained the situation. Kim even replied to Housing, imitating her roommate in an email that Zhou provided The Daily:

“Hey Edith,
Actually, Azia doesn’t stay here permanently, she just stays occasionally when she stays late. Sorry, I apologize for any confusions.

Azia Kim pretended to move out early Monday evening, removing every visible object save for a light or two.

But Zhou soon discovered that Kim had simply hidden her clothes in the closet. The RAs confiscated Kim’s possessions and posted a terse notice on the door. A cab eventually took Kim to an uncle’s San Jose house at 2 a.m. Tuesday morning.

Zhou is not taking any chances though: She’s ordered Housing to install a chain on her window.

“To think that someone I trusted to be a Stanford student with a key was climbing in and out of windows and that I was in the same room all this time really freaked me out,” Zhou said.

Police are currently investigating the situation. They could press trespassing or theft of services charges – Stanford Housing charges unauthorized visitors $175 daily, bringing Kim’s eight-month liability up to $42,000.

But after filing a report with the Department of Public Safety, Zhou doesn’t think much will be done.

“The police just said, ‘If we see her on campus, we’ll evict her,’ and say ‘Don’t do anything anymore,’” Zhou said. “Even after hacking into my email account, they said there’s nothing they can do unless she was using it to fraud anyone. I don’t think they’re going to do anything.

The police did not return a call seeking comment.

Residential Education officials declined to comment – typical practice for any ongoing investigation. More than 10 students were interviewed for this article; many are ResEd employees who would only speak off-the-record or on the condition of anonymity.

Neighbors and acquaintances described Kim as a quiet, tall Asian girl, unassuming at first glance.

“She was kind of shy, kind of reserved, but for someone who really isn’t affiliated with Stanford, that’s to be expected,” Okada neighbor Bo Zheng ’08 said. “When I saw her in the hall, she wouldn’t really say ‘hi’ or anything.”

But closer friends hinted at deeper troubles underneath a sweet veneer.

“There must be something big behind this,” said Lee, “because I don’t think people behave this way for no reason. We’re hoping she gets help if she needs it.”

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