A recent Berkeley High graduate who was killed last week in Oakland along with his mothers was remembered Monday during a vigil on campus.
About 100 people came together to remember Benny Wright, 19, who graduated from the BHS Academy of Medicine and Public Service (AMPS) learning community in June. Benny’s mother, former BUSD teacher Patricia Wright, and her partner, Charlotte Reed, were also killed.
Monday, vigil organizers passed out candles and invited attendees to share their memories and thoughts about Benny Wright.
“Benny’s brother (home from school in Mississippi) spoke first for nearly 15 minutes about Benny’s spirit of love and joy and about how he had already forgiven the assailant,” said teacher John Tobias, who helps run AMPS, along with Claudia Gonzalez.
Tobias said Benny, according to his brother, had been deciding whether to become a hairdresser or a nurse.
“He always wanted to make people feel better. Other students and teachers spoke about Benny’s unwavering smile being able to light up a room,” Tobias said.
According to Wright’s brother’s remarks at the vigil, Benny was from West Africa and had been adopted, but was regarded as if he had been born into the family.
Students spoke about how Benny made them feel welcome at BHS when they were new and didn’t know anyone. A teacher said that, despite Benny’s struggles inside and outside of school, “he never, literally never, gave excuses. He always took ownership of his successes and setbacks,” said Tobias.
At the end of the vigil, a student read an essay Benny wrote his senior year “where he described his ideal world.… a world without poverty and violence where people were rewarded for being positive and kind.”
In the essay, which was a personal statement about his vision for the world, he wrote, “my world is going to not have all the weapons and bad drugs that can kill you. The result of having no weapons and no drugs will be that people will be able to live a very long safe life. I want my world to be positive because it will make everybody happy all the time.”
About a dozen students from Benny’s AMPS class of 2016 attended the vigil, and most stayed until the end, “when we brought the candles and photographs and the framed copy of Benny’s essay to the College and Career Center where Benny was a regular fixture after school nearly every day he was at BHS,” said Tobias.
According to Charles Burress, spokesman for the Berkeley Unified School District, the AMPS community organized Monday’s vigil. He said Wright attended Berkeley High all four years and graduated this past spring.
AMPS staff distributed a statement to other BHS staff that recognized Benny’s positivity and hope for the future. It was also read over the announcements: “He had a beautiful smile that was so big it always turned into a giggle, and the thought that the world will no longer see his smile is heart-wrenching and so very hard to believe. He truly was such a kind and sweet young man loved by his AMPS Fam, and the tragic loss of his life has deeply devastated the Class of 2016 and our entire AMPS community. Forever in our hearts our dear, sweet Benny.”
Burress said Patricia Wright, Benny’s mother, worked for BUSD from 2006 until she retired in 2015.
She began as a deaf interpreter and became a special-ed teacher at King Middle School, and was an elementary teacher at Berkeley Arts Magnet when she retired.
Her BUSD colleagues described her as “extraordinarily kind and always working to make the world better for those who faced discrimination,” Burress said. “They also praised her as a thoughtful and dedicated mother.”
Tragedy in Oakland
According to court papers, police were called Friday shortly after midnight to a home in the 9400 block of Dunbar Drive in Oakland to investigate a report of gunshots.
When they arrived, they found Benny Wright on the ground in front of the home. He appeared to have been stabbed. As officers were trying to help him, they heard a loud bang from the garage.
Moments later, a woman walked out of the home covered in blood. Police later identified her as 61-year-old Dana Rivers of San Jose.
OPD officers detained Rivers, who was found with ammunition in her pockets, as well as knives, according to court documents. Police said “she began to make spontaneous statements about her involvement in the murders.”
Inside the home, police found two people who appeared to have been shot and stabbed. Despite attempts to help them, both were pronounced dead at the scene.
The three victims were identified in court documents as 55-year-old Charlotte Reed, 57-year-old Patricia Wright and Toto Diambu, which appears to be Benny Wright’s given name. All three lived in Oakland.
Tuesday, Rivers was scheduled to be arraigned at the Wiley Manuel Courthouse in downtown Oakland. She has been charged with three counts of murder involving both a knife and gun, as well as arson of an inhabited dwelling and possession of metal knuckles.
The home on Dunbar was on fire when first-responders arrived, according to media reports, though police did not share any information about this in the statements that have been released.
Rivers — who was born as David Warfield — gained national attention in 1999 after she told her employer, a Sacramento-area school district, that she was transgender and planned to live as a woman. She was later asked to leave, following several parent complaints related to her gender, and ultimately became a spokeswoman for transgender issues.
Rivers is being held without bail at Santa Rita Jail and is scheduled for an attorney and plea hearing Wednesday in Department 112 at the Wiley Manuel Courthouse in Oakland, according to sheriff’s office records online.
Friends mourn loss of 19-year-old gunned down in Berkeley (09.23.16)
Berkeley music collective honors slain rapper ‘AyeGee’ (08.31.16)
Mother of homicide victim: ‘That bullet was not meant for my daughter’ (08.18.16)
In loving memory of Terrence McCrary Jr., 1993-2016 (08.15.16)
Another Berkeley High alum fatally shot Sunday (08.15.16)
2 BHS grads killed in separate Oakland shootings (08.14.16)
Hundreds hold vigil in Berkeley to remember Efe Ustenci (06.25.16)
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[Editor’s Note: Some additional text and photographs were added to this story after publication.]