My brothers flew in for the weekend on Friday. There was a bachelor party, several excellent meals, immense fun ensued. I had the task of getting everyone everywhere on time, which I did. Included in that work was my having to pick up one brother at OAK at 2, then the other brother at SFO at 5. Fun, right? On Sunday one of them left, and today I drove the other back up to Oakland, where he was taking a cheap flight on Allegiant Air to Phoenix/Mesa.
Around the time we were packed and got on the road, a gunman entered a classroom at Oikos University near the Oakland Airport. The man, One Goh, is a 43-year-old former nursing student at the small, Christian school catering to the Korean-American community. As we neared the airport, we were listening to podcasts and The Game, so we had no idea what was happening as we approached. Seeing that we had some time before my brother’s flight, we took a detour to Nation’s in San Leandro for a burger and fries. Still, we had no clue what was going on until I pulled out my phone and started checking Twitter. There were several tweets about a gunman and lockdown, but little concrete information as the situation was evolving.
Eventually, Goh surrendered in Alameda after killing seven and wounding several others at the school. At no point were my brother or I in danger, yet I couldn’t help but have a strange feeling about what happened. After I dropped him off, I noticed a helicopter circling above the vicinity of the crime scene. I figured I should listen to the news to find out what happened. The feeling didn’t subside, and then I realized why: I’ve been through this before.
Most of my childhood was spent in Sunnyvale. It’s well known as a fairly sedate city, one of the safest of its size in the country. It’s also where one of the Bay Area’s most shocking mass murders occurred 24 years ago. On February 16, 1988, former ESL employee Richard Farley entered his former office with numerous guns, looking for a woman he was stalking. He shot and wounded her and killed seven others. He stopped when he requested a sandwich and drink from a sandwich shop kitty corner from the office. That sandwich shop was a Togo’s, where my twin brother (the bachelor party celebrant) worked a year later. For some time a few employees at the Togo’s coined the sandwich, a #9 hot pastrami, a “Shooter Special”. The shootings occurred a few miles from my junior high, and an even shorter distance from my younger brother’s elementary school.
In the summer of 1993, I was renting a townhouse with some college friends in Capitola. We frequently went to the beach, mixed up lots of bad drinks, and had little to worry about. Then, late on July 1, I got a call from a girl I was seeing at the time. She was back home in SF, and she was planning to come down for the 4th. Her voice was low and I sensed something was wrong, so I asked what was happening. It turned out that where her dad worked, 101 California Street, a gunman entered a law firm in the building and killed eight, then himself. My girlfriend’s dad was unharmed, but the ordeal and evacuation was very tense. I don’t know if she was looking for me to tell her that everything would be okay, and I distinctly remember being very silent and not knowing what to say. I felt that in 1988, and I felt it again on Monday. For what can you say about such senseless acts? About men who take being disgruntled to incomprehensibly lethal obsession? I just looked at the CNN homepage, and while the Oikos tragedy would’ve been the lead story a generation ago, it’s relegated to the sidebar, clearly not as important as the umpteenth GOP primary or further dissection of the Trayvon Martin killing.
Trib columnist Tammerlin Drummond laments the university and Oakland, which has now tallied its 34th homicide just 93 days into the calendar year. While Drummond makes clear that what happened Monday was an isolated incident and not part of Oakland’s normal cycle of violence, she admits that it will get thrown into the mix regardless, which is terrible for everyone due to the feeling of desensitization to Oakland’s plight. Drummond even brings up the possibility that the Oikos killings will cast a shadow over the Coliseum City project. That may or may not be true, but as I’ve noticed, these incidents can and often do happen in the safest and most unexpected places.
I wish I had something better to say. At this point in my life, I doubt I ever will. Well, there’s this: many of those killed were nursing students. The brother I dropped off on Monday, Chris, will be a nurse in two years. My twin brother, Caesar, is an occupational therapist. My cousin, Debbie, is finishing her nursing program. I am so proud of them for dedicating their lives to helping people. It doesn’t get acknowledged enough. I am so sad for the victims and their families, not just because of their personal loss, but also because it deprives the world of people who willingly dedicate themselves to help others. We need that as much as anything these days.