LAS VEGAS (KLAS) — Friends and colleagues of the three faculty members who were killed in Wednesday’s shooting on UNLV’s campus came together Friday to share fond memories.
Professor Cha Jan “Jerry” Chang, 64, of Henderson; Asst. Professor Patricia Navarro Velez, 39, of Las Vegas; and Associate Professor 69-year-old Naoko Takemaru, of Las Vegas, all lost their lives on Wednesday, Dec. 6, county officials said.
“What our university endured on December 6 is nothing short of life-changing,” UNLV President Dr. Keith E. Whitfield said in a news conference Friday. “We will not ever forget that day.”
“Emotions are swinging like a pendulum,” Whitfield said. “One moment people are fine, the next they feel like they are being knocked down by a title wave of grief and pain.”
Dr. Margaret Harp, an associate professor of French in the Department of World Languages and Cultures, spoke about Naoko Takemaru, remembering her as an inspiring teacher.
“She was lion-hearted in kindness, lion-hearted in generosity, lion-hearted in humanity,” Harp said. “I have no doubt she was lion-hearted in her final moments.”
UNLV hired Naoko in 2003 to help develop the Japanese language program, which Harp said she succeeded in “admirably,” with her courses always being full.
Harp described Naoko as a “triple-threat” artist, detailing how she was a professional concert pianist who also embroidered beautifully and had a penchant for making homemade chocolates, which she would share with her fellow faculty members every holiday season.
She said Naoko was a “cat lover supreme,” who had an office covered “floor to ceiling, wall to wall” with cats.
“Godspeed, Naoko,” Harp ended emotionally. “We are better people for having known you. We are bereft at losing you.”
Patricia ‘Pat’ Navarro Velez was a beloved member of the UNLV accounting and Lee Business School community and family, Dr. Jason Smith, Department of Accounting chair and professor at Lee Business School said.
“She had a larger-than-life personality and an infectious smile, and a genuine kindness that made everyone around her feel like family,” Dr. Smith said.
Originally from Puerto Rico, Patricia’s story resonates with many students at UNLV, Smith said, explaining that she pioneered her way through three universities into a job at one of the largest public accounting firms in the world, before choosing to return to the classroom as a professor to share her passion for accounting.
All of these professional accomplishments were on top of also being a mother of four children.
Patricia joined UNLV in 2019 and “immediately made a positive impact in the lives of students and her colleagues,” Smith said.
“Her lasting legacy is one of a wide circle of friends who, through her influence and love, find ourselves as family.”
Dr. Keah-Choon ‘KC’ Tan, Professor of Operations Management, Marketing & International Business at the Lee Business School shared that he became friends with Cha Jan “Jerry” Chang shortly after Jerry joined UNLV in 2001.
“We took our children ice fishing together during those early days,” Dr. Tan shared. “During one of our trips, both of us, driving separate cars, got a speeding ticket. At the same place. By the same Trooper.
“We learned our lesson,” he said with a laugh.
Tan described Jerry as a good teacher who deeply loved his students at UNLV.
“He loved UNLV so much that he and his wife discussed some time ago that he would like to donate his body to research at UNLV.”
Though UNLV’s medical school does not take donations like that, Dr. Tan shared that Jerry did get his wish to further medical study at another institution.
“We will miss him. His memory will live on, not just in the memory of those he touched, but also in the spirit of collaboration, dedication, and student-centeredness.”