In his first two fights of the season, Williams defeated his opponents by forcing them to submit in less than two minutes with a triangle choke.

"I was very proud that I asked him to join the team," Ruas says, "because Jeremy was able to show his potential to the world."

At Williams' memorial service in May 2007, an estimated 2,000 people crowded into the Coast Hills Community Church in Aliso Viejo. Apex Jiu-Jitsu had grown to more than 140 students in the two years since Williams opened it, Richard Williams says. But Williams' father was still surprised by the turnout, expecting friends, students and relatives to number only around 350 people.

Richard and Susan Williams near Strands Beach in Dana Point, where a memorial will be held Monday
Jonathan Ho
Richard and Susan Williams near Strands Beach in Dana Point, where a memorial will be held Monday

Nearly one year later, Richard and Susan sit in their hilltop home in Laguna Niguel. The house has floor-to-ceiling windows, with an expansive view of the foothills all the way to the ocean. Susan points to a buoy in the distance. "That's where we scattered Jeremy's ashes," she says.

Richard pulls back his sleeve to reveal muscled forearms and a tattoo that says, "In Loving Memory of Jeremy Williams" with the Apex logo, an orange upside-down triangle.

Susan laughs and says he got the tattoo, his first, on his 60th birthday. With blond hair and a tan, she looks like a quintessential California mom. She says their other son, Jacob, 20 months older than Jeremy, looks more like her. Jeremy took after his father.

Susan is in good spirits, saying she feels like she has been floating on air since seeing Williams' daughters, Brooklyn, 3, and Jacklyn, 9 months, a few days earlier. Williams' wife, Lauren, was six months pregnant when he died. (Lauren, 23, was unavailable for comment for this story.)

Later, Susan reveals why it was such a big deal to visit her granddaughters: It was the first time she'd seen them since Williams' death.

Susan says she and Lauren had a very close relationship, talking almost every day before Williams died, but the two had a falling out shortly after Williams' death. Williams had moved into his parents' house two weeks before he died because of marital issues, and his wife, Lauren, became a target of blame.

But Susan recently met with Lauren after almost a year, hoping to re-establish their relationship. "I just really want to focus on healing now," Susan says. "We want Brooklyn and Jacklyn to have only positive things in their life because they're trying to live without Jeremy."

*     *     *

"After his passing, we started learning more positive things about our son than we knew," Richard says.

"Of course, we knew how awesome he was and how loving he was with us," Susan adds, "but he was very humble, and he never bragged about things he did for people."

One story told to Richard took place at a fight in a small venue in Los Angeles. Williams, coaching one of his female fighters, forgot the hitting pads in his vehicle. When he ran out to get them, the 6-foot-2 Williams startled a homeless man outside the building.

"The guy looked scared, and Jeremy tells him, 'It's okay; nobody's going to hurt you.' Then he says, 'Hold on—just wait right here,'" Richard recounts. "He ran to the car, got what he needed, came back and stopped. Nobody knows how much, but the person who told me the story was with Jeremy. They said it was probably around $100. He stuffed all of the money in the guy's hands, and he held his hands, and he wouldn't let go until the guy promised he would go get some food and a place to stay.

"And he made the guy promise he wouldn't get booze or drugs. Jeremy just stood there, holding the guy's hands, until finally the guy said, 'Okay,' and Jeremy said, 'Okay,' and he ran back in."

Williams, who became very religious about six years before he died, had a reputation for his small acts of kindness, Richard says.

In another story he was told, Williams, with a group of fighters, arrived at a restaurant drive-through at the exact same time as another vehicle. "I thought, 'Oh, no, this is the story that ends in a fight,'" Richard says with a laugh.

But instead of a fight, the two drivers tried to wave the other to go first, Richard continues. When the other car wouldn't budge, Williams finally went, rolled down his window and thanked the other driver.

"When the car behind him got to the window, they said, 'How much?' And the person at the window said, 'The guy in front of you already took care of it,'" Richard says.

On another occasion, when a group of fighters at his gym didn't have the money to take a trip to Mexico to fight, Williams drove them there; paid for the gas, hotel, dinner and entry fees; and when the fighters tried to pay him back with their winnings, Williams said, "No, that's your money, you won it," Richard recounts.

"It's just so heart-filling to hear about how generous he was," he says. "We're still hearing stories."

For nearly nine months, Susan says, she was in shock. She attributes the recurrence of her breast cancer to the stress from her son's death. (On April 22, Susan underwent surgery after her fourth diagnosis.) A year later, she's encouraged by the news that older son Jacob has a new baby boy on the way. She says it's a sign from Williams.

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