Two Berkeley High School alumni, Craig Fletcher-Cooks and Terrence McCrary Jr., both remembered for their kindness and love of life, died in a shooting in Oakland on Sunday. They were 20 and 22 years old, respectively.
On Saturday night, Fletcher-Cooks and McCrary were attending a birthday party at an art gallery in downtown Oakland. They were both shot and killed about 12:50 a.m. Sunday, according to Oakland Police Department spokesperson Johnna Watson.
A 2014 graduate of Berkeley High, Fletcher-Cooks played rugby for the Berkeley Rhinos rugby team, assuming the role of co-captain during his senior year. According to Nathaniel Muhler, assistant coach for the Rhinos, Fletcher-Cooks was a charismatic and hardworking individual who was consistently eager to learn and teach others.
“He was the kind of guy who challenged me to be a better coach,” Muhler said. “He was always asking me how he could improve — and I thought he was great on his own.”
According to Angela Coppola, an economics teacher at Berkeley High who had Fletcher-Cooks in one of her economics classes during his senior year, Fletcher-Cooks was a humorous student who was well-liked by his peers.
Tim Hanawalt, an incoming high school senior and current player for the Berkeley Rhinos, knew Fletcher-Cooks when he was a senior co-captain and Hanawalt was a freshman. He recalled a time when he was a freshman — new to the sport — and Fletcher-Cooks voluntarily took him aside after practice one day to demonstrate how to throw a rugby ball.
The death of Fletcher-Cooks follows that of former Rhinos rugby player Efejon Ustenci, who drowned while swimming near Lake Tahoe in June. After Ustenci’s death, the team gathered together at Ohlone Park to tell stories about Ustenci and play a game of touch rugby in celebration of his life.
Muhler said the team members have demonstrated emotional maturity and resilience in the wake of both tragedies. He added that coaches are in discussion about holding a similar gathering for Fletcher-Cooks.
“It’s really shocking to have to deal with this,” Muhler said. “They’re just young men. “
McCrary Jr., who graduated in 2011 from Berkeley High, is remembered for his positive outlook on life and ability to connect people by uplifting the spirits of those around him. He was recognizable by his distinct voice and laugh, according to Nicco Piña, also known as Neek Levy, who attended high school with McCrary Jr. and had been his friend ever since they lived across the street from each other as children.
Piña said that growing up, he and McCrary Jr. shared many firsts together. Once, when Piña’s parents were away for the weekend, the two were hungry and decided on impulse to drive his dad’s Chevrolet Suburban to buy pizza — though they were only 13 years old at the time.
“I don’t know how we made it, but we did,” Piña said. “The whole time we were laughing and he was like, ‘Bro watch out, watch out’ — just messing with me.”
McCrary Jr. was also a memorable figure in the Berkeley skateboarding community, making regular appearances at the Berkeley Skate Park and Bows and Arrows Skate Shop on Telegraph Avenue, where he had worked for a year.
Cristal León, the manager at Bows and Arrows, said that McCrary Jr. made the skate shop a lighthearted and welcoming environment for customers and employees alike, always pushing to make sure his friends were enjoying themselves.
“Whenever I was down, he was the level-headed one,” León said. “We got through our ruts together, he was always there to smile or laugh or give me a hug when I was down, and vice versa. He cared a lot for everyone.”
Besides skateboarding, McCrary Jr. also enjoyed free-form painting. He showcased a photo series of disposable photos taken at Piña’s concerts at an art gallery on 15th Street.
Piña added that McCrary Jr.’s wide smile was a reflection of his efforts to constantly bridge communities through his kind demeanor and ability to make others laugh.
“I would do anything to get in the car with him again, to get him in my passenger seat,” Piña said.