Town Crier: Widow of teacher slain in Huckleberry park speaks out

MONTCLARION: January 16, 2015

It’s been more than 50 days since David Ruenzel was shot dead on the laurel-lined trail in the Huckleberry Botanic Regional Preserve in the Oakland hills. A path known for its beauty and solitude was the scene of a horrific act that belies explanation.

I sat down with Ruenzel’s widow, Nancy Aldrich-Ruenzel, this week — to hear her thoughts in the wake of a crime that she fears has been lost in a stream of ongoing violence in Oakland. She wants the Montclair community to know David’s story and stay vigilant in the search for his killers.

Nancy told me that Huckleberry was her husband’s favorite regional park. And as a writer and teacher, he liked to walk it alone.

“The solitude and nature — it was his time for reflection,” she said.

Yet he’d also share walks with his wife and two adult children. In fact, Nancy said they’d made plans to visit every one of the parks in the East Bay Regional Park District this year. On the morning of his killing, two days before Thanksgiving, he told his wife that he had four hours of work and when he was finished with work — he would either go to a movie or on a hike.

That evening, after seeing two suspicious men and then hearing gunshots — hikers found David’s body. It appears, Nancy says, that he was shot before he could even hand over his wallet — something he would surely have done — given the chance.

“David was the kindest man. He helped so many people,” Nancy said. “For something like that to have happened — well — he wouldn’t hurt a fly.”

Indeed, he worked tirelessly to help Oakland’s poor and disenfranchised. He taught adult education at his church — Our Lady of Lourdes on Lakeshore. He volunteered in West Oakland and he often wrote about the evils of violence, racism and bigotry. For him to have been shot, point blank, for only his wallet (a cell phone and car keys were left behind) makes no sense.

Friends and neighbors have been raising money for a reward, to which the East Bay Regional Park District has contributed. The amount is now $25,000 for information leading to the capture of David’s killers. The family prays this will happen soon before someone else becomes a victim.

Last weekend, David’s best friend, Brad Newsham, walked the streets of Montclair and Rockridge, putting up reward posters with the help of David’s son. Many bystanders were curious. Some hadn’t heard about the crime, but Newsham says all were “incredibly warm” and there were “gratifying responses from everyone who stopped.”

Meanwhile, Nancy is asking the community to be careful and to keep the lines of communication open with neighbors and police. She said her husband would have agreed.

“His message would have been ‘Let’s get out there and connect with other people.’ ”

Everyone, she said, needs to pitch in and help stop the violence in Oakland.

“It’s going to take all of us. In David’s memory — I think we need to do that,” she said.

The family has set up a website at

Got news? You can reach Ginny Prior by email at



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