3 victims of UNLV shooting remembered as dedicated and inspiring educators

Naoko Takemaru was an artistic “triple threat” who inspired her students in Japanese language and her colleagues with her spirit. Patricia Navarro-Velez was an accounting expert with a larger-than-life personality. And Jerry Chang loved research so much that he had decided to donate his body to science.

That was how friends and colleagues at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas, remembered the three faculty members fatally shot by a gunman Wednesday in an attack on the campus.

Takemaru, 69, was identified Friday as the third victim killed in the shooting that erupted at around 11:45 a.m. A fourth person, a visiting professor, was wounded, police said.

The gunman was shot and killed by university police who rushed to the scene at Beam Hall.

Naoko Takemaru

“There was no kinder, gentler soul than Naoko. Every interaction I had with Naoko was special. It is a devastating loss for her family, her students, and our department,” Deborah Arteaga, who is a professor of Spanish and linguistics at UNLV, told NBC News in an interview.

Arteaga, who sheltered in place with students for several hours during the shooting, added, “Our department cannot begin to process such a senseless, violent end for Naoko.”

Takemaru was an associate professor of Japanese studies who was hired by the university in 2003 to develop its Japanese language program, colleague Margaret Harp, associate professor of French, said at a news conference Friday.

“Naoko was a triple-threat artist,” Harp said. “She was a professional concert pianist who left that career due to physical disabilities. She embroidered beautifully, creating her own designs. And every holiday season, she brought us her homemade chocolates.”

Takemaru’s neighbors Mario Reyes, 58, and April Reyes, 56, said they met her in 2020 when they moved into the neighborhood.

“Quickly we became not just neighbors but friends. … She had a beautiful sense of humor. She was very soft-spoken, very intelligent,” said April Reyes, who added that the last time the couple saw Takemaru was last week when they helped fix her garage door.

“She gave my husband the tightest, longest hug because she was so grateful” for their assistance, Reyes said. “She used to call my husband Super Mario … because he was so handy.”

Cha-Jan ‘Jerry’ Chang

Professor Cha-Jan “Jerry” Chang, 64, who taught management information systems at the Lee Business School, leaves behind a wife and two children, whom he loved, friend and colleague Keah-Choon Tan said at the news conference.

Chang came to the university in 2001, and he and Tan would take their children fishing together. He recalled that during one trip each man was driving a separate car.

“Got a speeding ticket each — at the same place, by the same trooper,” Tan said, to laughter. “We learned our lesson.”

Chang was a rigorous researcher and dedicated teacher who previously decided that when he died he wanted his body donated to research at the university, Tan said. UNLV’s medical school does not take such donations, but his body will be donated to another institution for medical study, he said.

“It is a true testament of how much he loved teaching, research, UNLV and higher education,” Tan said.

Patricia Navarro-Velez

Patricia Navarro-Velez, 39, an assistant professor of accounting originally from Puerto Rico, “was a pioneer who worked her way through three universities into a challenging job at one of the largest public accounting firms in the world,” said Jason Smith, professor and chair of the accounting department.

Navarro-Velez joined the department at UNLV in 2019. Her research zeroed in on cybersecurity disclosures and assurance, internal control weakness disclosure, and data analytics, the school said.

“Pat immediately made a positive impact in the lives of students and her colleagues,” Smith said Friday. “She had a larger-than-life personality, an infectious smile, and a genuine kindness that made everyone around her feel like family.”

All three were in Beam Hall when they were killed, UNLV Director of Police Services Adam Garcia said. The Las Vegas Metropolitan Police Department is investigating the shooting.

University President Keith Whitfield said Friday that the shooting Wednesday was the university’s darkest day, and life-changing for everyone involved.

“It’s going to be awhile before we get to whatever we can consider normal. But you know something, that’s OK,” Whitfield said.

“It’s OK in part because we are a community. We’re a community at this university, we’re a community within this incredible city, and this incredible state,” he said. “And I think we’re here for each other, to take care of each other. And with that we’re going to be able to move forward.”

CORRECTION (Dec. 9, 2023, 3:50 p.m. ET): A previous version of this story misspelled one of the victims’ last names. It is Jerry Chang, not Chan.