A woman dressed in red robes raised an urn of lit incense up to the sky to guide the young man’s spirit into the afterlife.
Buddhist nuns chanted prayers as more than 200 mourners in the memorial hall of McAvoy O’Hara Evergreen Mortuary walked to the open casket to pay their final respects.
Most were teenagers, but then again, so was the deceased.
In a story that is becoming sadly familiar on college campuses across the country, 18-year-old SF State freshman Peter Tran died April 24 while attending a Lambda Phi Epsilon fraternity party, held by the campus chapter.
The fraternity was placed under immediate suspension pending investigation and individual students “may also go through the University’s conduct review through the Office of Student Conduct as appropriate,” said Dean of Students Joseph Greenwell. Greek Life Coordinator Monolito Twyman, who oversees the fraternities, did not respond to calls or emails.
Fraternity parties and alcohol have been notorious for student fatalities all over the country. Few charges against students for a hazing death have resulted in a sentencing in California. A severe case at Chico State University involving water torture, hypothermia and alcohol poisoning though resulted in a one year sentence and spawned “Matt’s Law,” which can result in felony prosecutions for hazing rites.
The particulars of the party that claimed Tran’s life are not yet known, but he was no stranger to adventure. He owned his own motorcycle, snowboarded, and skydived.
San Francisco Police Department Officer Albie Esparza confirmed that Tran was pronounced dead at 1 p.m. April 24 at a house on the 1200 block of Plymouth Avenue. The cause of death is still under investigation by the medical examiner, who did not return phone calls or emails.
The Xpress reached out to Tran’s family but his parents declined interviews. One of Tran’s cousins, an SF State student who asked not to be named, confirmed Tran is survived by his father, mother, and younger brother.
One student took to the Facebook page “SFSU Confessions” voicing outrage over the fraternity students’ conduct at the party.
“His permanent death was not worth the fun of the night… he deserves more than what he is getting now,” the unidentified writer posted to the public page. “His death is not justified.”
A fundraising website started by Tran’s family to recoup memorial costs raised more than $2,600 before the page was closed. Mortuary employees said the service cost just more than $3,400. George Washington High School donated $700 to the family, according to the donor list. Though SF State teacher Heather Murdock contributed $40 the University itself was not listed as a donor. Inquiries to University President Leslie Wong asking if the school would donate were unanswered by press time.
Greenwell wished to pay his respects. “My thoughts and condolences go out to his family and friends…there is nothing sadder to me than a student death,” he said.
Tran was a championship running back for George Washington High School’s football team, the Eagles, number 24. He was a pre-nursing major at SF State.
At Tran’s memorial his friends and family wrote every possible expression of love on a large sheet of paper hung on the wall of the mortuary.
“Hey Petey Pablo, It’s me again. I talked to you last night because I prayed to you,” wrote one friend. “We were two (Tenderloin) kids who were supposed to make it out,” a commenter wrote. “Peter, I don’t know why the good die young,” wrote another.
Inside the hall a projector played images of Tran’s life: A baby being held by a relative, a child standing in front of the fireworks at Disneyland, taking goofy webcam pictures with classmates, and smiling at a Giants game at AT&T Park.
The only sounds in the room were the bang of a hand drum, the clang of a bell, and the lilt of a flute.
The nuns walked Peter Tran’s casket to the funeral procession, headed to Golden Hills Memorial Park.
“After death we guide him past the bridge into another world,” said Mary Tran, a nun from the Shuen Yeung Temple. They had performed the ritual many times, she said, but rarely for one so young.
As the hearse drove away it began to rain.
Nena Farrell and Maegan Tingling contributed reporting to this article. Dean of Students Joseph Greenwell is collecting condolence cards and letters at SSB 403 and will send them to the family. If students would like to speak with a counselor, the Counseling and Psychological Services Center is available and you can make an appointment by calling 338-2208 or visiting SSB 208. To donate to pay for Tran’s memorial visit http://www.youcaring.com/memorial-fundraiser/in-loving-memory-of-peter-tran/56672.