HOUSTON, Texas (KTRK) -- About a dozen friends of Yuanhua "Kiki" Liang showed up in court on Monday to watch Christopher Collins, Liang's husband, make his first court appearance on murder charges. Their eyes were focused toward the front and their despair was mostly hidden behind masks.
Wearing an orange jailhouse uniform in court, Collins listened quietly as prosecutors read aloud the allegations that he murdered his wife, Liang, in their Cypress area home on Nov. 18, then attempting an elaborate ruse to cover it up.
"We don't know what's happened. It's terrible," said Ming Hua, who met Liang a few years ago over their mutual love of gardening.
In fact, most of the friends who came to court on Monday either met Liang through gardening or because they were all originally from Guangxi, a region in Southern China that partially borders Vietnam.
"We go out together. We go out for dinner, for the weekend, go out for fun," said Yan Zhou, who first met Collins and Liang in 2007 when the couple was in China.
Zhou said Collins was teaching English in China at the time and also working on improving his Chinese.
Records obtained by Eyewitness News showed that from 2003 to 2006, Collins was a specialist in the U.S. Army, serving as a Human Intelligence Officer. He received several awards during his service, including the Army Good Conduct Medal.
Over the past several years, Collins appears to have dabbled in a variety of work. He has an artist-focused Instagram account, conducted Facebook chats about Search Engine Optimization, and even sold some of the eggs from his backyard chickens at a neighborhood pet store.
"There were no red flags at all," said Kristen Mueller, a Cypress-based yoga instructor who taught both Collins and Liang for years. "I, on a number of occasions, have gone to their home, they met my kids, gone to baby showers. Not once has there ever been a bad conversation. They did everything together. They just loved yoga and the community."
But beneath the idyllic suburban life image portrayed on YouTube TikTok, and Instagram accounts, court records showed the couple had years of money woes.
In 2016, a foreclosure lawsuit was filed by the homeowners' association against Collins and Liang for not paying around $2,000 in association fees. The couple apparently never showed up in court, and in a default judgment, their home was scheduled for auction in 2018. That sale was later canceled, and the case remains pending in court.
When Collins met up with investigators on Nov. 18, he told them he was driving a rental because his car had been repossessed.
Also, investigators found a $250,000 life insurance policy signed by both Collins and Liang dated Nov. 16, just two days before she was killed.
"I had no idea," says Mueller. "She was the most loving, most loyal, most dedicated person to her friends and family and we're all so, so sad she's gone."
Mueller and other yogis are organizing a Yoga class dedicated to Liang at Shaka Power Yoga on Dec. 12. They are also urging people to go to Harris County Animal Control to adopt the couple's four dogs and four cats.
Meanwhile, Zhou and other friends are working to get Liang's parents from China to the U.S. so they can properly mourn their daughter's death.