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Shock and Grief Follow Killing of El Cerrito Woman in Oakland Campus Massacre

The death of nursing student Sonam Chodon, one of seven people slain by a gunman at Oikos University in Oakland Monday, has shocked and grieved her friends in the local Tibetan community, who are holding a prayer ceremony tonight.

El Cerrito resident Sonam Chodon, one of seven people killed Monday morning in the massacre by a gunman at Oikos University, was remembered today, Tuesday, by saddened friends in the local Tibetan community as kind and devoted to caring for others.

"The whole of our community is in shock," said Tenzin Tsedup, president of the Richmond-based Tibetan Association of Northern California.

The association is holding a prayer ceremony for Chodon, 33, and the other victims at 7 p.m. tonight at its headquarters at 5200 Huntington Ave. in Richmond. Anyone is welcome to attend, Tsedup said.

About an hour after the campus killings, police arrested a suspect, One Goh, 43, at a Safeway in Alameda. Oakland police Chief Howard Jordan said Goh was a former student seeking revenge on a female member of the school admininistration and shot several students as random victims, according to CNN. He did not locate the adminstrator. Three people were wounded in addition to the seven killed.

Chodon, who had been studying nursing at Oikos, moved to El Cerrito to live here with her brother nearly two years ago, Tsedup said. She had been living in the Tibetan community in exile in Dharamsala in India, where she was born and where her parents and grandparents had escaped after the Chinese Communist takeover of Tibet in 1950-51, he said.

(The victim is not the person of the same name listed at an address on Lexington Avenue near Lincoln Avenue in El Cerrito.)

Before coming to the United States, Chodon worked for five years on children's education in the Department of Education of the Central Tibetan Administration, the Tibetan government in exile, Tsedup said. 

Oikos University is a small, private Christian college located near the Oakland Coliseum. Chodon, like most of her compatriots, was a Tibetan Buddhist, said , a spokesman for the Tibetan Association of Northern California. 

"She told me she was studying nursing, not to make money, but she really wanted to do something to help everyone," Tulku said.

"She has a very spiritual motivation," said Tulku, who was born in Tibet in 1954 and fled in 1959.

"She was very dedicated," Tulku said, adding that she showed up for the association's various events and activities and volunteered to lend a hand. "She comes all the time, anytime we need help." She was especially devoted to working with children, he said.

News of her death spread quickly among the close-knit local Tibetan community, said Tulku, a co-founder of the Bay Area Friends of Tibet who also works as a barista at Starbucks in El Cerrito Plaza.

Tulku's phone was busy late into the night, he said. "People were so much shocked, shock and sadness," he said. "I almost couldn't sleep last night."

"She's a really nice and caring person...who always helped others with an open heart," Tsedup said. "It's really sad that such a nice person is no more with us today."

"It's a painful time for everyone," he said, adding that her death adds to other tragedies that have beset Tibetans, including the 33 who engaged in self-immolation since 2009 in protest of Chinese occupation of Tibet and loss of freedom for their homeland, he said.

"In such a situation, it's really sad that someone in the free world had to die," Tsedup said.

Her death not only brought grief but also reinforced the resolve among local Tibetans to foster compassion for all beings and education for children that stresses non-violence, Tulku said. 

Update: 10 p.m.: In closing remarks at the El Cerrito City Council meeting tonight, Mayor Bill Jones took note of Chodon's death and said, "Our thoughts and condolences are also with her family and friends as well as with the family and friends of the other people that were either killed or injured during that terrible event in Oakland." 

Editor's note: The list of victims released by the Alameda County Sheriff's Department department has an alternative spelling for Chodon's last name, "Choedon." The notice of her death from the Tibetan Association of Northern California spelled it "Chodon."

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