A framed photo of David Sakurai sits next to a lit candle, with roses laying in front on an altar
Photographs of David Sakurai are on display at the altar that Rudsdale students and staff created to memorialize him. Credit: Amir Aziz

During the seven weeks that David Sakurai was hospitalized following a mass shooting at Rudsdale High School in September, his biggest concern was for the other people at the scene—the men whose wounds he applied pressure to, and the people he brought to safety in the immediate aftermath of the shooting.

“His concern was the guys who were with him when he got shot,” said Sakurai’s wife, Anne Okahara. “His concern was about what care they were getting to deal with the trauma that they faced.” 

On Monday, Sakurai’s care and compassion were celebrated by dozens of his family and friends, colleagues, community members, and who gathered on campus to remember him and unveil a memorial. Sakurai died on Nov. 17 from the injuries he suffered in the Sept. 29 campus shooting that also injured five others. The vigil was coordinated by Urban Peace Movement, a youth group that organizes against mass incarceration. 

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David Sakurai, an OUSD carpenter, was honored at a vigil hosted by Urban Peace Movement at Rudsdale High School in Oakland, Calif. on May 22, 2023. Sakurai was shot on the campus on Sept. 28, 2022 while working in the building. Credit: Amir Aziz

On the day of the shooting, two men ran up to the school’s entrance and opened fire, unloading more than 30 bullets. Sakurai, an OUSD carpenter, was putting up posters in the hallway when he was shot, said David Hunter, the chief shop steward for OUSD’s buildings and grounds team. The shooting sent shockwaves through Oakland Unified School District and renewed conversations about police and security on school campuses

Monday’s vigil began with a ceremonial Aztec dance in the school’s courtyard, now named the David Sakurai Peace Garden. The garden features a pergola built by Sakurai’s colleagues and benches constructed by students in Fremont High School’s architecture academy. Sakurai’s colleagues and loved ones wanted a memorial that reflected Sakurai’s commitment to his craft; he’d worked in OUSD’s buildings and grounds department for 18 years. 

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Danza Azteca performer Prishni Murillo hands a rose to Anne Okahara, David Sakurai’s wife, during during the ceremony. Credit: Amir Aziz

The department is now also considering renaming its facility at 955 High Street in Sakurai’s honor, said Hunter. 

“This was somebody that we came to work with every day. This was our brother,” Hunter said. “This is more than just a name to us. This is our family.”

In the weeks and months following the shooting, OUSD improved some security measures at Rudsdale, including hiring more culture keepers and ambassadors—positions held by community members familiar with student dynamics on campus, and therefore better equipped to ease conflicts between students before they become violent. The district also upgraded the school’s camera system, and added a camera and doorbell to the front entrance, according to Rudsdale’s principal, Alessandra Cabrera. 

The school also partnered with Restorative Justice for Oakland Youth to hold healing circles for students and staff, and collaborated with Freedom Community Clinic to create classes on Wednesdays about stress, trauma, mental health, and self-care. 

Rudsdale serves older teen students who are at risk of not graduating on time from traditional high school. As an alternative school, Rudsdale offers smaller class sizes, one-on-one support, career pathways and job training, and the option to complete a high school diploma or GED. Rudsdale also has a newcomer program for students who recently immigrated to the U.S., many of them arriving as unaccompanied minors, said Cabrera. 

“There’s a stigma about the type of students here, but our goal is really to uplift students and honor their strength and resilience,” Cabrera said. “I want an investment in resources for healing, for mental health, housing, all of the basic needs that our students struggle with at times. That’s what we start with first so that they can be successful.”

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Anne Okahara, right, receives flowers from Urban Peace Movement. Credit: Amir Aziz

In addition to the peace garden, students and staff also created an altar for Sakurai in the cafeteria. In the next few weeks, a QR code attached to the pergola will link to resources and support for students experiencing violence. 

Okamura, Sakurai’s wife, said her husband’s death has spurred her to become more involved in Urban Peace Movement and other efforts to promote alternatives to punitive criminal justice policies. 

“I understand, first-hand, how serious and tragic a homicide is. And still, the answer is not to track people down and enter them into prisons,” she said. “We need more interventions and community care for people who are troubled to prevent these kinds of things from erupting.”

Ashley McBride writes about education equity for The Oaklandside. Her work covers Oakland’s public district and charter schools. Before joining The Oaklandside in 2020, Ashley was a reporter for the San Antonio Express-News and the San Francisco Chronicle as a Hearst Journalism Fellow, and has held positions at the Poynter Institute and the Palm Beach Post. Ashley earned her master’s degree in journalism from Syracuse University.