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Alumna Killed in Vegas Shooting Remembered for Independence

By Cody Kitaura/Dateline on October 10, 2017 in University News

When Michelle Vo once brought a friend on a visit to her sister’s home, she made sure to tell him the best way to interact with her sister’s children.

“’You gotta get down on the floor and play with them,’” her sister Diane Hawkins recalled Vo saying. “’You can’t just stand there.’”

The 2007 UC Davis graduate could connect with anyone, from infants to people she had just met. People like Kody Robertson, who was with Vo the night of Oct. 1 when gunfire rained down on the Las Vegas concert they were attending. Read how Robertson became a lifeline between Vo and her family.

Michelle Vo
Vo (Courtesy Diane Hawkins)

Vo, 32, would become one of the 59 fatalities in the horror of that night. Chancellor Gary S. May said the incident left him “heartbroken” as he shared a message of sympathy for Vo and other victims.

Vo’s family and friends are remembering her for her drive, friendliness and compassion.

“When she spoke with you, she made you feel like you’d known her for 100 years,” Hawkins said in a telephone interview. “She just had that gift.”

Since Vo’s death, there has been an outpouring of support, and an online fundraiser for her family raised six times its $10,000 goal within five days.

Hawkins said she’s received many messages from people who knew her sister. Some shared stories of Vo’s standing up for them in junior high school, while others said they met her for only an hour at the festival and already felt like close friends.

“I had people texting me and they shared: ‘You don’t know who I am, but I met Michelle at a bar at the Mandalay Bay. Within an hour I knew what your kids looked like.’”

She was alone at the music festival in Las Vegas, and Hawkins said that wasn’t unusual. When her sister — the youngest of three sisters and fiercely independent — decided to do something, she did it without any hesitation.

Hawkins said that independence “rubbed off” from her mother, who escaped her home country of Vietnam during the Vietnam War and raised three girls after their father died — and one boy several years later. They were all instilled with confidence and independence, but Vo was easily the most extroverted, Hawkins said.

“She was just a go-getter,” Hawkins said of her sister. “She would make a decision and execute — no hemming and hawing.”

That decisive spirit extended to travel. After graduating from UC Davis with a degree in communication, she decided it was time to see the world, setting off on a solo backpacking trip through Europe. She made friends everywhere along the way, and Hawkins said she received messages of condolence from people her sister met in France.

Michelle Vo and child
Michelle Vo amassed numerous photos her with her older sister's children. She's pictured here with Ethan, who is now 6. (Courtesy Diane Hawkins)

She flourished in her work with New York Life Insurance in Glendale, earning accolades and thriving in the social environment, Hawkins said. But she wasn’t selfish in her ambition. She volunteered with the Red Cross and donated blood as often as they would let her. She would frequently talk with Hawkins’ children, ages 5, 6 and 8, and send care packages of the exact toys they wanted.

She was so close with those kids that she had amassed more photos of them than their mother did. Hawkins said she’ll miss seeing new ones unexpectedly pop up on social media.

Vo is survived by her mother, Hana Bui; two older sisters, Cathy Vo and Diane Hawkins; and a younger brother, Alex Nguyen. She was scheduled to visit her mother in San Jose on Friday — instead, a public memorial was held for her that day.

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