OAKLAND -- Berresford "Berry" Bingham, community strength coordinator of SEIU Local 1021, was found dead in his West Oakland home and investigators are treating the death as a homicide, police said.
Fran Jefferson, field director for the Service Employees International Union Local 1021, said Bingham's son called their office late Tuesday morning because he hadn't been able to reach his father.
Two SEIU employees went to Bingham's townhouse in the 500 block of Henry Street. His car was parked on the street but the front door of his home appeared to be ajar, Jefferson said. The two SEIU employees knocked. When no one answered they called police, who entered the home at 11:35 a.m. Tuesday and found Bingham dead.
Police were not releasing many details about the case, which is still under investigation. Police said Bingham, 64, had trauma to his body, but declined to say how he was killed. A motive was not known, police said.
"Berry was a huge part of the community," Jefferson said, adding that he was a deacon at his church. "He was this huge force. He was an amazing person."
In his job at Local 1021, which was previously Local 616, Bingham was working on a Head Start campaign in Stockton and was often out of town. His overall job involved working with organizations like Head Start to strengthen ties between communities and the union.
Local 1021 represents public workers, including those in the city of Oakland, Alameda County and BART employees in Northern California, a union spokeswoman said. Bingham had worked for SEIU for about 17 years.
Bingham, who had recently moved to Henry Street, was divorced with three children and lived alone.
A native of Montego Bay, Jamaica, he moved to the United States with his family when he was 12. After high school and a short stint in college, Bingham enlisted in the U.S. Navy, and served 20 years before retiring in July 1994.
He became interested in schools while living in Alameda and in 1994 was elected to the Alameda school board. He served from 1994 to 2002 with former board member Anna Elefant, who said he was a proponent for all children -- no matter their race or social standing.
"He wanted to make sure the schools were good and that there was a level playing field for all students throughout the west and east ends of Alameda,'' she said. "He was a proponent of diversity and equal opportunities for all students."
Elefant said she had seen him about two years ago in an Alameda coffee shop, where they discussed their children. "He was so proud of his own three children, they all graduated and went to college," Elefant said. He had recently become a grandfather.
Henry Street neighbors, including Michelle Glover who lived next door, could not recall seeing him for a few days. "That's a shock," said Glover, who described him as a warm, likable man.
Bingham's death is the 12th homicide in Oakland this year. A reward of $10,000 is being offered for information leading to the killer or killers. Anyone with information can call police at 510-238-3821 or Crime Stoppers of Oakland at 510-777-3211.
Staff writers Peter Hegarty, Harry Harris, Angela Woodall and Sandy Kleffman contributed to this report.