In the quiet aftermath of a tragedy that left a university reeling, a brazen act of thievery carved deeper into the wound of loss. The home of the late Naoko Takemaru, one of three esteemed professors whose lives were abruptly ended in the December 6th massacre at UNLV, became the scene of an opportunistic crime.

On December 26th, the solemnity surrounding Takemaru’s residence was shattered as three individuals invaded her Las Vegas sanctuary. KLAS-TV/Las Vegas later reported this violation, disclosed in a somber police report—a document testament to the deed’s disrespectful nature.

Takemaru, a revered scholar of 69 years, whose contributions to the realms of academia and Japanese Studies were silenced too soon, had been a solitary resident in her home. The burglars, exploiting the aftermath of her death, intruded with the confidence that none would oppose them.

Yet opposition came. A vigilant neighbor, witness to the unfolding crime, saw an unfamiliar woman emerge from Takemaru’s home, arms laden with possessions. The neighbor’s call to 911 was swift, but the suspects—faces obscured, intentions clear—fled the scene in a waiting vehicle before law enforcement’s arrival.

Upon their arrival, the Las Vegas police were greeted not by the warmth of a lived-in home but rather the disarray of a place ransacked. While the precise tally of what was taken remained unknown, the presence of fresh flowers left in mourning outside the home eloquently spoke of the community’s reverence and loss.

Takemaru, a cornerstone of the UNLV faculty, was felled alongside her colleagues, Cha Jan “Jerry” Chang and Patricia Navarro Velez, by the hands of gunman Tony Polito, a man embittered by rejection. Polito’s vendetta, armed with a legally purchased Taurus 9mm and a cache of ammunition, was fatally ended by police—an end to his ambitions that never found harbor at UNLV.

Beyond the classroom, Takemaru left a legacy in print as well, with her book “Women in the Language and Society of Japan: The Linguistic Roots of Bias” providing insight into the cultural constructs of gender within her native land. In memory of the lives and intellects lost, the UNLV Foundation has since established scholarships to honor each of the three victims.

As police now safeguard what was once Takemaru’s abode, the echoes of her and her colleagues’ contributions continue to reverberate through the halls of the University of Nevada, Las Vegas, immortalized in the pursuit of knowledge they so passionately defended.

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John Crew
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