Last Monday, 20-year-old Justin Valdez was shot from behind after off boarding an eastbound M-Ocean View Muni train at approximately 9:50pm. According to police, Muni cameras captured surveillance footage of the alleged shooter who was described as an Asian man between 20 and 30 years old with a stocky build who was wearing a black baseball cap as well as a white fleece hooded jacket with gray lining, blue jeans, and black running shoes.
Police have described the incident as “random and unprovoked” as it is believed that the victim and suspect did not even know one another. The day after the shooting of the San Francisco State University sophomore, 30 year old Nikhom Thephakaysone was arrested outside his home. He is currently being held without bail and is facing three felony counts including murder, assault with a deadly weapon, and possession of an illegal assault weapon.
SF State president Les Wong said in a statement, “This is truly a tragedy for Justin’s friends and family, and for the entire University community. I have reached out to Justin’s family to offer our heartfelt concern, and to assure them that we stand ready to offer support and assistance at this difficult time.”
Friends and loved ones of Valdez are stunned by the killing.
“I cannot even begin to process this,” said SF State sophomore Xavier Durante. “I met this good man just under a year ago at an on campus environmental awareness event in which he and I embarked on a scavenger hunt together. Nothing but positivity from this guy. He was so radiant, giving off nothing but warm vibes any time I spoke with him.”
Friends of Valdez called him someone who had an optimistic attitude.
“I once heard a story about Justin’s friends from SoCal asking him how he was able to deal with the dreary foggy overcast of the Bay Area,” Durante fondly remembered. “Justin described the fog as a representation of the future. You can’t see through it but you walk through it anyway to get to the other side. I always liked that about him. He always took the negative and made it positive.”
SF State staff, students, friends, and family met last Thursday to pay their respects to Valdez at a candle light vigil on top of Cesar Chavez Student Center. Several members of SF State Eco Students, the environmental organization Valez was involved with during his freshman year, reflected on his efforts to educate others about recycling and sustainability.
“He wanted to save the world. He wanted to take initiative and become the president of Eco Students, and I did see that in his future,” said Sustainable Initiatives program coordinator Sharon Daraphonhdeth.
SF State junior Robyn Shigemitsu rode on the same Muni train as Valdez on the night of the shooting where she witnessed him getting off the train before getting gunned down. She too attended the vigil to pay her respects.
“I don’t want to remember him as the boy who was shot late at night,” Shigemitsu said. “I want to learn about a boy that brought light into people’s lives.
The San Francisco District Attorney’s Office is still in the process of arraigning Thephakaysone as the SF State community and Valdez’s friends and family eagerly await answers and closure. A preliminary hearing has been set for November 20 at 9 a.m.