MEDFORD, Mass--More than 220 mourners assembled Saturday for the funeral of Dunster House junior Trang Phuong Ho '96
The funeral, which was a traditional Vietnamese Buddhist ceremony intended to send the deceased into the next life, followed a two-day wake in which Ho's friends and relative continued to search for explanations of her death at the hands of her roommate of two years, Sinedu Tadesse '96. Tadesse committed suicide after killing Ho last Sunday, May 28.
Ho's friends and relatives converged at that Dello Russo Funeral Home in Medford Saturday morning. Ho's mother and two surviving sisters live in Medford.
Two shuttle buses transported Harvard students and resident tutors to the building.
Ho's body lay in an open casket, her head turned to the left side and wrapped in a white headband. Her sisters, Thao and Tram, also wore the mourning bands. White is a traditional color of mourning in Vietnam.
A portrait of Ho--the same that appeared in the first-year facebook--sat in front of the 20-year-old biology concentrator's coffin, in front of a portrait of Amitabha, the buddha for the afterlife.
The Rev. Thich Giac Duc, the priest of the Unity Buddhist Congregation, read from the Maha Pranya Sutra, the Mahayana Buddhist liturgy for the dead. Two assistants burned incensed and chanted as Duc recited the half-hour-long liturgy in Sanskrit, Vietnamese and Chinese.
At approximately 10:15 a.m. Saturday, the coffin was closed amid the wails of Ho's mother, Quy Thi Ho.
Among the mourners at the service were Harvard President Neil L. Rudenstine, Radcliffe College President Linda S. Wilson, Dunster House Senior Tutor Suzi Naiburg, Vice President and General Counsel Margaret Government, Community and Public Affairs James H. Rowe III '73.
After the service, Ho's body was placed in a black hearse.
Preceded by a police motorcade and a funeral car carrying a bed of flower arrangements, the hearse slowly wound its way down Main St. in Medford. It was followed by more than a dozen cars containing family members and mourners, and the two Harvard shuttle buses. Inside the buses, several students quietly cried.
The retinue reached the Mt. Auburn Cemetery in West Cambridge 20 minutes later where they packed the small Bigelow Chapel at the cemetery's center.
Mourners filled the chapel's seats and the second-floor gallery. There, Duc repeated the three-part Sanskrit liturgy at the side of Ho's closed coffin. In a few brief remarks in English, he told the mourners: "Our lives on this earth are impermanent...Disease causes us [to] suffer. Death causes us [to] suffer. Wisdom causes us [to] suffer."
"Wherever there is violence there is suffering," Duc said, apparently in reference to Ho's death.
At 12:10 p.m. four pall-bearers removed Ho's coffin from the chapel.
Wilson, Rowe, Naiburg, Dean of Students Archie c. Epps III and Director of the Harvard International Office Seamus P. Malin were present at the burial.
The Sanskrit liturgy was repeated for the third and final time at the burial plot, under a large dogwood tree. As Duc finished the incantations, Ho's coffin was lowered into the ground. The mourners bowed their heads three times, in accordance with Vietnamese custom.
Ho's father Phuong Ho, who flew in from California, cried loudly as he touched the coffin. Also among the mourners was Thao Nguyen, 26.
Nguyen was the overnight guest of Ho's and the only witness to the stabing. She was injured by Tadesse but managed to escape. Her arm and foot still in casts, Nguyen did not speak with reporters.
Ho's older sister, Thao, a student at Tufts University, comforted Ho's younger sister Tram, as they stood next to the plot. Meanwhile, dozens of mourners slowly filed by the coffin, tossing flowers into the grave. Some knelt before Ho's photograph on the ground or crossed themselves.
Harvard will be paying for the funeral expenses of both Ho and Tadesse, according to Dean of Students Archie C. Epps III. Rudenstine said in an interview Friday that he would pay both women's funerals if necessary.
In a telephone interview early last week, Thao Ho confirmed that Tadesse had written Trang Ho a letter expressing disappointment and calling Trang Ho her best friend. Thao Ho refused to discuss the details of the letter, however, citing an ongoing police investigation.
Thao and Trang Ho and their father came to the U.S. from Ho Chi Minh City as Vietnamese boat refugees in November 1985, Thao Ho said. "My mother and my younger sister came in 1990, in October," Thao Ho added.
Thao Ho described her sister as an achiever, "She's pretty much a perfectionist," Thao Ho said. "She wanted to achieve in every area."
Thao Ho said her sister received a full financial aid package from Harvard. She described her sister as one of the primary wage-earners of the family, earning money not only for her tuition but to send home to her mother and two sisters.
"She works very hard, helping to financially support my family," Thao Ho said. "She was one of the main persons supporting [us]. I was living with her, my mother and my younger sister, just the four of us."
Ho, who hoped to become a doctor, worked at the Dunster House library and at the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute, Thao Ho said.
Earlier, friends and family of Ho attended her wake on Thursday and Friday, also at the Dello Russo Funeral Home.
Rudenstine, his wife Angelica Zander Rudenstine, Dean of the Faculty Jeremy R. Knowles, and Dunster House Co-masters Karel F. Liem and Hetty Liem attended the services for approximately half an hour Thursday night.
The service, which lasted form 7 to 9 p.m., was conducted by Duc. According to Phuong Doan, whose son was a friend of Ho's, the service focused around the good Trang's spirit would do in another life.
"He said there is too much worry, too much sadness," Doan said the monk told the mourners Thursday night.
"You move to the next stage, to a better position," Doan continued. "There is another life. She has a bright future."
Doan also mentioned the possibility of creating a scholarship in Ho's memory, an idea that was also brought up in the University-wide meeting on Thursday.
"To remember the girl, we have to do something," he said.
The Thursday shuttle to Ho's wake was filled with her friends, most of them members of the Harvard Vietnamese Association (HVA). Ho was vice president of HVA from April 1994 to April 1995.
When the shuttle bus arrived at the funeral home and the television cameras appeared, the comfortable aura in the shuttle disappeared.
"Nobody stop," one member of the group said, referring to the media. "Just go in. Don't look at them."
The group disembarked silently and filed into the funeral home.
After the services ended Thursday night, the students emerged form the funeral home crying and embracing each other.
As the group huddled together, some students tried to shield their weeping friends from television cameras. Others moved within the group hugging and quietly talking.
The students waited in full view of the press while a shuttle was brought around to the front of the funeral home to chauffeur them back to campus.
On Friday afternoon, a memorial service was conducted in Memorial Church by Plummer Professor of Christian Morals Peter J. Gomes and Associate Minister in the Memorial Church Preston B. Hannibal.