A mother's struggle: son's homicide case remains unsolved 5 years after murder

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Last week, Maria Climaco brought a bouquet of yellow roses to the spot in North Oakland where her son was gunned down five years ago. 

There’s a bus stop there at Market Street and Stanford Avenue and two elderly women sat quietly on the bench, waiting for their bus to arrive.

They spotted the flowers. 

“They asked me who they were for. I said they were for my son,’’ said the 51-year-old Climaco.

She told the ladies that her son, 22-year-old Aya Nakano, was murdered near the bus stop bench on the night of June 12, 2013, exactly five years ago.

She explained that following her son’s murder, she had spent $50,000 advertising the crime and the sizable reward on dozens of bus stop benches, billboards and transit buses. 

“They remembered,’’ Climaco said. “Those ladies remembered him. And that is why I’m so keen on getting the word out. My greatest fear is the public forgetting about Aya and Aya’s case.” 

To that end, Climaco has recently worked with police to make a public service announcement about the case in hopes of generating leads. She also continues to grow the $125,000 reward that is being offered in the case, that has baffled police. 

On the night he was killed, Nakano was returning from a pickup basketball game in Berkeley to the Emeryville home he shared with Climaco and her long-time partner. The next day was his 23rd birthday and the three had a late dinner planned. 

But Nakano never made it home. 

About an hour before midnight that warm June night, his Jeep Cherokee was rear-ended at Market Street and Stanford Avenue in North Oakland. 

Nakano got out of the vehicle, most likely to exchange insurance information with the other driver.

Police say an argument started and the other driver shot him before speeding off – with a passenger-- south on Market Street in a late-model, four-door, silver sedan hatchback. 

The same Oakland police investigator has kept the case for five years, but no arrests have been made. 

“Unfortunately, there hasn’t been a solid lead so far,’’ Climaco said. 

In a city that often sees more than 100 killings a year, Nakano’s case stands out for many reasons.

A motive has never been identified. Nakano wasn’t robbed before he was killed and by all accounts he had absolutely no ties to gangs or drugs. 

He had graduated from the University of Oregon the year before he was murdered, had more friends than he could keep track of and lived a quiet life with his mother and her partner. 

But police say the case also stands out because of the $125,000 reward that is being offered.  

The reward money was raised by Climaco and comes from family and friends, a $10,000 anonymous gift, and donations from the city of Emeryville, the FBI and Crime Stoppers of Oakland, Climaco said. 

Oakland police spokeswoman Officer Johnna Watson said a reward of that size is something police don’t see very often.  

The killing touched many officers in the department because of its seemingly random nature and police are hoping renewed attention will generate solid leads.

Climaco said she is grateful for their support and work.

“I’m glad they have not forgotten Aya’s case. It’s been 5 years. I remain hopeful and optimistic,’’ Climaco said, adding that her life has been put “on hold” since her son’s murder. 

“It’s been a struggle,’’ she said. “But I would have failed him 100 times more if I had given up.”