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‘Completely heartbroken’: Slain UNLV professor Takemaru mourned in vigil

Lights shone onto the front of Naoko Takemaru’s Las Vegas home Saturday night, illuminating posters on the garage doors and tables holding many flowers and candles honoring her memory.

A handful of people sat in chairs illuminated by the nearby light, but dozens gathered in the dark street in front of the house on Deer Haven Court for a vigil remembering Takemaru.

People embraced and many uttered quiet sobs as they remembered their neighbor, colleague and professor after her death at the hands of a mass shooter on Wednesday.

Former UNLV student Devon Whitaker held his copy of Takemaru’s book close to him at the vigil. He said he was devastated when he found out she died.

“I just was completely heartbroken,” Whitaker said. “I went into my room, locked the door, fell flat on the floor and cried for almost an hour. Even right now I’m struggling to not get emotional, I’m just trying to hold it together.”

April Reyes was Takemaru’s neighbor, and she said her and Takemaru had been friends since Reyes and her husband moved into the neighborhood three years ago.

“When I look over her yard, I remember I’m never gonna see her sitting in her back patio,” Reyes said. “On and off I haven’t stopped crying since Thursday because that’s when we found out.”

Reyes remembered Takemaru as intelligent, softspoken and surprisingly funny.

Reyes said Takemaru also loved her Japanese heritage and brought that love into her teaching at UNLV. Whitaker said she always inspired him to work harder.

“Every single time I stepped into her classroom, she was always smiling,” Whitaker said. “She had a smile that would light up the entire campus.”

Reyes, Whittaker and other neighbors and former students of Takemaru’s were happy to see so many people come to the vigil Saturday night. Whitaker said he hopes everyone dealing with her loss can stay resilient in the face of tragedy.

“It’s just unfortunate that a person like Naoko is no longer on this earth, it really is,” Reyes said. “The world needs much more Naokos.”

Contact Mark Credico at mcredico@reviewjournal.com.

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