Las Vegas Sun

November 24, 2017

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Family, friends conduct vigil for teen shot by police


Leila Navidi

Salina Sutton,17, embraces a friend during a vigil for her friend and former classmate at Chaparral High School Tanner Chamberlain on the one-year anniversary of his death. Chamberlain, 15, was shot by a Metro officer as he threatened his mother with a knife, police said.

Tanner Chamberlain Vigil

Isaiah Quiambao, 16, from left, Franklin Watkins, 18, Patrick Woodruff, 17, and Crystal Watkins, 16, all students at Chapparal High School and friends of Tanner Chamberlain, embrace during a vigil Wednesday at Sunset Park for Chamberlain on the one-year anniversary of his death. Chamberlain, 15, was shot by a Metro officer as he threatened his mother with a knife, police said. Launch slideshow »
Click to enlarge photo

A collage of family photos was on display at Tanner Chamberlain's funeral on Oct. 9. Chamberlain, a junior at Chaparral High School, was killed by police during a dispute at his home near Vegas Valley Drive and Nellis Boulevard.

Video played at Chamberlain's funeral

Audio Clip

  • Chamberlain's teacher, David Winkler, speaks and reads Chamberlain's self-eulogy

At 5:13 p.m. Wednesday, Evie Oquendo released a white dove from her grasp and watched as it flew off into the setting sun.

While the dove circled above Sunset Park with the others that had just been let go, a group of about 50 people remembered Oquendo’s only son, Tanner Chamberlain.

Chamberlain, 15, was shot and killed by Metro Police last year at 5:13 p.m. on Sept. 29.

Metro Police were called to an apartment complex and found Chamberlain and Oquendo in an altercation.

Police reports said Chamberlain had a knife to his mother’s throat, and officer Derek Colling shot Chamberlain once to protect Oquendo.

One year later, Oquendo said she still feels terrible about what happened, but it is the memory of her son that keeps her going.

“The only reason I got through today was because I had planned this day of remembrance,” Oquendo said. “I just wanted to make sure I could join everybody together, because Tanner impacted so many lives.”

Though it was a somber occasion that had many people in tears, there was some laughter, too.

A number of people remarked about Chamberlain’s intellect.

Family friend Diana Meehan said that at 4 years old, Chamberlain took over as a tour guide at a reptile farm and stole the show. He named the different animals and, in the process, left employees with their mouths hanging open in shock, she said.

“That’s the way he was. He was very intelligent,” Meehan said before breaking out into tears. “He was only 15; he was just a baby.”

Meehan said she and her husband, Scott, donated a bench at the park a last present for Chamberlain. She and Oquendo worked together in New York as police officers, and Chamberlain was the son she never had, Meehan said.

“Tanner was everybody’s son,” she said. “This is the final gift we could give.”

Many of Chamberlain’s classmates were struck by his frankness and ability to act and write poetry.

Franklin Watkins met Chamberlain in theater class and was amazed by his performance of a Shakespeare monologue.

Stepping up on top of the newly dedicated bench, Watkins said it symbolizes the support Chamberlain gave his peers.

“He was a thinker, a writer, a poet, a reader,” Watkins said. “He knew everything. You could not top this kid.”

David Winkler, Chamberlain’s creative-writing teacher, read the eulogy at his funeral last year. But during the remembrance, he read Chamberlain’s favorite poem, “The Raven” by Edgar Allen Poe.

“There’s a mystery encapsulated in [the poem’s] lines that appealed to Tanner’s own sense of mystery and wonder,” Winkler said. “I had heard from many people that that was his favorite poem. He read it quite passionately, exuberantly and I wanted to do him justice.”

Though it was mostly friends and family at the remembrance, the family of Erik Scott, who was shot by police officers at a Summerlin Costco store in July, showed up to provide their support.

“She lost a son; we lost a son,” Scott’s father, Bill Scott, said. “It’s not a pleasant bind, but it binds us together in such a way that nobody else can understand — especially losing a child to what I would call ‘official violence.’”

Both Oqueno and Scott had strong opinions about the coroner’s inquest process and the actions of Metro Police surrounding their sons’ deaths.

“Las Vegas has become a police state, and it’s a very dangerous place because of its own police,” Scott said.

Scott said Metro’s announcement on Wednesday to examine its own use-of-force policies was a good first step but, overall, he is doubtful any change will come from it.

Oqueno said that if police officers were better trained, there would be no need to reassess the inquest process, because officers wouldn’t be “shooting to kill.”

“If they weren’t running around killing people unnecessarily, there would be no coroner’s inquest,” Oqueno said. “I come from a family of law enforcement, but the ones here are all young. All had less than four years on the job. All have this military, macho background. They think, ‘Oh, I can kill him. I can get away with it.’ It’s justified because no one’s ever been found guilty.”

After the group shared their memories, the sun went down and people lit candles for Chamberlain.

Afterward, as everyone said their goodbyes, Oquendo smiled as she exchanged contact information with Chamberlain’s friends, who hugged her and told her to call them anytime she needed anything.

Oquendo even made plans for Christmas, saying they could all decorate a tree in Chamberlain’s memory.

“It really does a lot for me to keep in touch with all these kids,” she said. “I know he impacted their lives and I want it to continue to impact their lives and future. I know Tanner inspired them and if they can keep that in their heads, they’ll go far.”

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