Fatally Beaten Homeless Man Lives On in the Songs He Sang

Yoshio Nakada was known for his frequent singing, gentle nature and bright smile.
Yoshio Nakada was known for his frequent singing, gentle nature and bright smile. (Courtesy Of John Graham, Grace Episcopal Church. - Courtesy Of John Graham, Grace Episcopal Church.)
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By Petula Dvorak
Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, January 10, 2009

Yoshio Nakada spoke little English beyond song lyrics.

In church, he communicated with a whispered "Silent Night." In the soup kitchen each morning, it was a jovial "Home on the Range." And with his caseworker, it was a hearty rendition of "Danke Schoen."

Nakada, 61, with his songs, gentle nature and bright smile, was a delightful mystery to hundreds of folks he encountered in his brief but rich Washington street life.

His killing on Christmas Eve across the street from the Watergate complex -- repeated blows to the head as he slept, cocooned in a sleeping bag -- is also a mystery to the police investigating two other attacks on sleeping homeless men in well-heeled Northwest Washington neighborhoods. One was in early December in the 2100 block of K Street NW, and the other was in McPherson Square two months earlier, said D.C. Police Detective Sean Caine. Those victims were injured -- one seriously -- but survived.

Michael Stoops, executive director of the National Coalition for the Homeless, said the attacks sound like hate crimes against the homeless. The coalition issued a report in April tracking a rising, nationwide trend.

"Some are gang initiations; some are just white suburban kids watching violent videos on YouTube and acting out," Stoops said. "Many attack a homeless person because they think no one will care, no one will investigate it."

Just a couple of weeks before Nakada was killed, Stoops's group testified before the D.C. Council to add attacks on the homeless to the city's list of hate crimes, he said.

The latest attack is stoking fear among the District's homeless. Robert McCray, who often ran into Nakada while both lived on the streets, said people are being told to sleep in groups and avoid being alone.

"We all worry that no one cares about us," McCray said. "They'll just forget about us, even when we get killed."

To the numerous communities in his orbit, Nakada mysteriously alighted one day, enigmatic and enthusiastic.

He sang songs tailored to everyone he met, never panhandled and endlessly scribbled English names, numbers, words and song lyrics on scraps of paper: fliers, newspapers, maps, even the cardboard sleeves from coffee cups.

Mourners, including bankers and social workers, gathered at a candlelight vigil in Foggy Bottom and a church service in Georgetown in his honor this week.

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