CASTRO VALLEY, Calif. - A public memorial service was held at 3Crosses Church on Wednesday morning for an Oakland police officer killed in the line of duty, where leaders and relatives spoke of his hard work, his dedication to the community and his big smile.
Hundreds came to attend to pay respects to Officer Tuan Le, who was shot to death by a burglary suspect on Dec. 29 while he was responding to a break-in at a cannabis dispensary.
Ahead of the funeral, a rainbow appeared over the church, a bright spot on an otherwise gloomy and somber day.
"He left behind so much grief, pain and memories for family, friends and his college and the public," his uncle, Stephen Le, said in both English and Vietnamese. "Our family is fighting hard to overcome this pain and suffering."
Le was the first Oakland police officer killed while working in nearly 15 years, and he was Oakland's 126th homicide victim of 2023.
A native of Saigon, Vietnam, Le had obtained his citizenship on Sept. 11, 2001. He was an only child raised by a single mother and a graduate of Oakland High School and San Francisco State University.
He joined the OPD four years ago and for the past couple of years, served as a community resource officer in West Oakland.
Interim Chief Darren Allison said that it was in Le's DNA to become a police officer; his grandfather had been a police officer in his homeland.
Allison personally pinned Le's badge on him after he graduated from the academy, even though Le's grandfather had already died.
"He had such a memorable smile," Allison said. "He had a true, true heart for service."
Allison said that nearly two weeks before Le was killed, he won a medal on Dec. 15 for his "quick thinking and actions," which helped save the life of another law enforcement professional who suffered a major heart attack.
"Although the loss of Officer Le leaves a void in our department and in our community and he will be missed," Allison said. "His legacy of courage, compassion, service and sacrifice will be immortal. Officer Le left his mark on our department and in our community. His kindness, his loyalty and his smile will remain in our memories. A true hero. He'll never be forgotten."
On social media, many wrote that they knew Le well and even had his cell phone number.
Attorney General Rob Bonta, who did not know Le personally, reflected on some of that when he spoke at the service. He said that so many people shared "moving condolences and heartfelt memories about this fallen hero."
Bonta spoke of Le's "big smile and kind and generous spirit, about his passion for Oakland and his dedication to serving the community he loved so much."
He also noted that Le worked hard to "build trust and strengthen ties between the Asian community and the Oakland Police Department."
In the days since his death, people have left flowers, candles and handwritten notes in the lobby of the OPD headquarters. A Buddhist ceremony was held in his honor for him last week.
A rainbow appears over Three Crosses Church in Castro Valley ahead of OPD officer Tuan Le's memorial service. Jan. 10, 2024
Le's cousin, Jennifer Ky, talked about what a dutiful son Le was and how he kept his family's minimal finances in mind.
She told a story where his mother bought him an apple on his last day in Vietnam. Knowing that money was tight, he saved the apple and traveled with it to the United States, sharing it with family in slices when he arrived in California.
"That was the kind of person Tuan was at 7 years old," Ky said.
Brother-in-law Kenny Phung described how Le asked his sister, Sarah, to marry him on a cruise and what a tough nut that was to crack, breaking into the "gang" of extended family.
Phung said Le succeeeded though, and he credited him with taking excellent care of his sister and their two dogs.
An hour before the service, the first guests began arriving at the church, including Oakland Mayor Sheng Thao, Alameda County District Attorney Pamela Price and Alameda County Sheriff Yesenia Sanchez.
The Oakland Fire Department posted a photo of firefighters standing under an American flag. Crews stood by on overpasses from Oakland to the church.
Police from other agencies, including San Jose, Berkeley and the Peninsula attended. About 500 Oakland officers lined up and marched in formation along the carport, awaiting Le’s casket.
Prosecutors charged 27-year-old Mark Demetrious Sanders with murder, including a special circumstances allegation, and 28-year-old Allen Starr Brown with murder. Prosecutors charged 28-year-old Sebron Ray Russell with burglary.
Sanders' mother was also booked on an accessory charge, but she has been released from custody and has not been formally charged.
Though the suspects' names were not mentioned at the service, the circumstances of Le's death were on everyone's minds.
"We are all struck today, emotionally distraught by the events that have taken place," Alameda County Fire Chaplain Pastor Larry Vold said. "We are saddened, hurt, anxious, even angry, wanting things like this to stop. There's something in all of us that yearns for a society where this kind of violence and evil simply never happens. We cry out for change, for the terrible brokenness we experience all around us to be healed."
Police mounted on horseback outside of OPD Officer Tuan Le's memorial service.