OAKLAND, Calif. - Hundreds of people, including family, friends and work colleagues, gathered outside the Montclair Starbucks on Mountain Boulevard to grieve the loss of 34-year-old Shuo Zeng, who was tragically killed fighting back during a robbery.
"In our generation, we have the one child policy,” said Shuo’s cousin, Jessie Qi, of growing up together in China.
“Both me and Shuo are the only child. I always think that I'm not like that, because I always had Shuo as my older brother."
Qi thanked the crowd for attending Shuo’s memorial. Fighting back tears, she said she was having trouble accepting that he was gone.
Last Tuesday was Shuo’s birthday. He spent the day working on his laptop at the Starbucks when a man grabbed his laptop. Shuo ran after the thief but was dragged by the getaway car and suffered severe head trauma. He died a few feet from the Starbucks.
"How many of us would have done the same thing?" asked Shuo’s colleague at IBM Aspera. "The fact that he stood up for himself, I'm so deeply sorry that he paid the ultimate price for that."
Originally, from China, Shuo graduated from Kansas State University and became a gifted engineer and research scientist at IBM Aspera.
Several colleagues each took turns at a microphone to share stories of Shuo’s kindness, generosity, and a desire to get his coworkers to play ping-pong or tennis with him.
Others grieved the missed opportunity to tell him how they felt.
"I never got to tell you this, because we just don't say this to friends. We don't just go up to them and say 'Hey, I really, really respect what you've done and I'm really, really impressed,” said Aspera’s founder and Shuo’s friend Serban Simu.
Friends spoke of Shuo’s support and interest in their activities.
“I was training for a race and he always asked me how many miles I ran that day and how it was going,” said Grace, a friend of two years.
One friend spoke of Shuo’s passion for photography, and described how he would get up early during a road trip in Africa to capture the sunrise. He broke down in tears describing the last time he saw Shuo.
"My wife borrowed a book from him, but she never got a chance to return it back to him."
Shuo's parents flew into Oakland from China this weekend, but did not attend the memorial.
"The flight from China to here is so long, 12 hours, 15 hours,” said Yang Cheng, a friend of 10 years.
“I don't know what they experienced during that flight. I can't imagine what they think of when they heard the news."
Shuo’s boss, Aspera CEO Michelle Munson, said she recruited Shuo from her alma mater and was emotional speaking of Shuo’s work ethic and kindness.
"No parent can fathom losing your child, but for them especially, we feel so sorry because they shared him with us here in the United States, he didn't grow up here,” said Aspera CEO Michelle Munson.
“As a parent, feel so responsible for the fact that he deserved the very best of the United States and unfortunately, he got the worst."