MINNEAPOLIS — The nation’s attention already moved on to its latest mass murder when Ashley Hasti was being eulogized.
Hasti died of multiple gunshot wounds that are believed to have been inflicted by her estranged husband, UCLA gunman Mainak Sarkar. Her body was found by police in her home in Brooklyn Park, Minnesota. Authorities stumbled upon her name on Sarkar’s “kill list,” which surfaced at his St. Paul apartment.
Police say Mainak murdered Hasti, 31, before he took off for California, forcing the UCLA campus into lockdown, and fatally shooting his former mentor, William Klug, a professor of mechanical and aerospace engineering, and then himself, on June 1.
Throngs of people arrived to UCLA the next day for a candlelight vigil honoring Klug. Nearly two weeks later, a separate memorial for Hasti was still being planned when another gunman opened fire at a gay nightclub in Orlando in the early morning hours of June 12. Forty-nine people in the club died, while over 50 more were injured in the deadliest mass shooting in U.S. history.
On Friday afternoon, more than 75 people, including family members, friends and colleagues gathered at the University of Minnesota’s Mayo Memorial Auditorium to pay tribute to Hasti.
Before the service began, mourners embraced in the auditorium’s sun-filled lobby, wiping their tears and signing a guestbook that was arranged on a table alongside an all-yellow bouquet of flowers and a framed picture of Hasti.
Inside the auditorium, a lecture hall that may have been familiar to Hasti as a medical student here, an image of Hasti grinning widely and wearing a backpack, probably on one of her world travels, was projected onto a large screen at the front, another floral arrangement propped onstage.
Michael Kim, assistant dean for student affairs at the medical school, acknowledged the void left by Hasti’s absence.
“To lose someone so unexpectedly … it’s like the puzzle has missing pieces,” he said.
Kim likened her to a comic book hero, as “She had a strong sense of right and wrong and she cared very deeply about people.”
Hasti challenged her colleagues, said Scott Slattery, director of learner development at the medical school. “[Hasti] and test-taking didn’t get along. … She would say, ‘we need to get rid of multiple choice questions.’ … They didn’t convey who she would be as a physician,” he said.
Slattery recounted 2 a.m. emails from her, with links to articles and highlighted passages. “She would say, ‘We need to aim for this.’” Additionally, Hasti used to speak out in her rounds on behalf of patients whenever she heard something that bothered her.
Hasti saw medicine in an individual way, and her ideas didn’t always jibe with those of the medical school. But she brought forward a valuable perspective: “The world needs Ashley’s voice, that challenging, ‘Let’s wrestle with this,’ which was so deeply rooted in her integrity,” Slattery said.
“How she died makes me angry and sad,” he said, adding that when he was pondering what to say, “I felt her presence saying, ‘Don’t candy-coat this.’ She will be missed and not forgotten.”
A fellow medical school student said of Hasti, “Her warmth put people at ease. She was so comfortable with her own self,” another friend from medical school said.
“She was my go-to person when I was lost,” another chimed in.
“Ashley was someone you wanted to be like,” yet another said of Hasti, recalling discussions with her friend about nonmedical topics such as YouTube, videos, dogs and cats, pop culture and so much more. “I learned how to advocate for myself from her.”
Hasti was a big advocate for the mental health of medical professionals. After a hard day, Hasti was always saying, ‘How are you doing?’ she added.
Likewise, when Hasti was a student and tutor at North Hennepin Community College in Brooklyn Park, a former teacher vouched, she showed care and concern for others.
Instead of just coasting through a biology class, for example, Hasti, one of her brightest students, took the time to help others with their homework. “She was always trying to do things to better everyone’s life,” she said.
As the first grandchild in the family, Hasti’s aunt said, she was “the light of our world. She was always curious, full of wonder and adventure.”
Somehow, she managed to do a lot in her 31 years, studying abroad, traveling the world, tackling medical school, even developing her talent as a comedian. “She was very artistic and had a great sense of humor,” she said.
She reiterated what Ashley’s sister Alex Hasti said on Facebook: She was the “smartest, coolest and funniest person I knew.“
As she wrapped up her reminiscences, her aunt quoted a line from their favorite movie, The Princess Bride: “‘As you wish,’ my sweet Ash.”
One woman, who met Hasti in a sketch-comedy writing class, said she had a knack for just about anything. “She could do whatever she wanted. She was very humble. I really admired her.
“I dreamed she’d go straight to Hollywood and write something quirky about a forensic pathologist,” she said of Hasti, who carried around a notebook for jotting down comedy bits, and who often listened to comedy podcasts while she memorized slideshows.
Near the end, Kim from the medical school handed the family a gift — a blanket in the university’s colors, maroon and gold.
He and another medical school representative snapped photos of the crowd, as well, at the family’s request. Everyone gave the peace sign with their fingers and said aloud, “Solidarity and peace for Ashley.”
It involved several takes, like a family portrait, and the room erupted with laughter.
After the ceremony, which lasted a couple of hours including a reception afterward, poster boards filled with photos of Hasti were put out in the lobby, along with a white fabric sheet covered in colorful hand prints — a gift from someone at UCLA.