No one saw it coming, no one wanted it to come, no one ever expected this to be a part of their college experience. And yet, it came, it happened, it took away the lives of six Gauchos.
May 23, 2014. The Isla Vista tragedy forever altered the lives of not only the families of those whose lives were cut short, but also each and every soul at the University of California, Santa Barbara. He could have been one of the many students racing down Pardall Tunnel on their bikes every morning; she could have been the one holding onto her sorority sisters’ hands every evening. But they are not, and they will never be again.
When the tragedy happened, most of the graduating class of 2017 were nearing the end of their freshman year, still searching for a place where they belonged and getting accustomed to living on their own. Today, they are preparing to mark the end of their stories at UCSB. He could have been the one slowly walking out the tunnel, looking back, and smiling; she could have been the one posing for the last pictures with her sorority sisters. But these events will never happen.
To remember the lives lost on the day the shooting happened, a series of events were held to commemorate the third anniversary of the tragedy.
Over the weekend, “The Second Annual Isla Vista Conference: The Beloved Community” took place across Isla Vista, attracting local residents as well as students, staff, and faculty members from UCSB. Attendees engaged in a variety of activities designed to “work toward [a] collective understanding of Isla Vista and commitment to [the] beloved community,” according to the Conference Statement.
As one of the co-chairs of the Isla Vista Conference Coordinating Committee, fourth year history of public policy major Paola Dela Cruz believes that “community engagement is the soul of Isla Vista.”
Throughout the weekend, participants were introduced to Dr. Martin Luther King’s vision of a Beloved Community. Attendees engaged in conversation about what, “Beloved Community looks like in Isla Vista,” said Dela Cruz. “Participants walked away with a written manifestation of what they committed to do over the next year to engage in Isla Vista through principles of equity, inclusion, and activism.”
Speaking of the aftermath of the May tragedy, Dela Cruz thinks it is important that Isla Vista residents “remember the six lives we lost and … honor the various ways in which our community rose and united.”
At the “Folding Cranes for Peace and Unity: We Remember” project organized by the Nikkei Student Union, over 1,000 cranes were folded and are currently on display in the Student Resource Building hanging from the second story bridge.
As second year biopsychology major Laura Yoshihara put it, “it was just a way for the Gaucho community to remember the lives that were lost in the 2014 Isla Vista Tragedy.”
“The crane symbolizes peace and unity in the Japanese culture,” said Yoshihara. “I was hoping to bring these into the Gaucho community.” Yoshihara was in charge of setting up the display.
At the time of the tragedy, Yoshihara was still a high school student who did not know where she was going to end up three years later. She described her involvement with the project as “unforced and … unplanned.”
In fact, it was during Yoshihara’s first year as a UCSB student when teaching assistant Melissa Barthelemy came into one of her writing classes as a guest speaker. Barthelemy talked about the spontaneous memorial sites around Isla Vista immediately following the tragedy and her personal connections with the victims’ families.
“I told Melissa I wanted to get involved and it just kind of took off from there,” Yoshihara said.
Today, Barthelemy is a doctoral candidate in public history and part of the planning committee for the “We Remember Them” memorial anniversary week events. She found the memorial to be a “deeply meaningful” time for herself and was “amazed” by the amount of students engaged in the activities each year.
“Time is one of the most precious gifts you can ever give another person,” Barthelemy said, praising the Gaucho community and the Nikkei Student Union in particular for their time and effort in folding over 1,000 cranes, and for showing the “depth of compassion of [the UCSB and Isla Vista] community.”
“Each one of those cranes represents an act of love and compassion,” Barthelemy added. “Origami cranes are also very important to the families of the victims because they are beautiful artistic pieces and they represent so much tender love and care.”
On Monday evening, a panel of speakers from the May 23, 2014 Isla Vista Memorial Archive Project came together with approximately 40 other participants at the UCSB MultiCultural Center Theater. Photographs taken at the spontaneous memorial sites following the tragedy, as well as other sites on campus dedicated to the victims of the tragedy, were showcased.
Barthelemy said during the conference that “sometimes we don’t realize how huge of an impact [we have] as an individual or even as a small group,” in reference to establishing a movement aimed at preserving the items from the memorial sites spread across Isla Vista. The items found at the memorial sites are currently located at the Davidson Library Special Research Collections.
Lauren Trujillo was the lead intern in Barthelemy’s project, and was close friends with victims Veronika Weiss and Katie Cooper.
“I never knew how it felt to be in unity,” Trujillo, now a UCSB alumna, recalled the aftermath of the shooting as Greek Life came together to support one another.
Barthelemy told The Bottom Line that, “It really means a lot to the families to know that people still care” about building a community in Isla Vista that is diverse yet also inclusive, and that parents of the fallen Gauchos “still want to honor the memories of their children.”
By providing a platform for the community to mourn collectively, Barthelemy said, “It reminds us that we are not alone. And that this pain we feel is shared by others. In some way that lightens the burden we each bear.”
“Healing is a process that takes time,” Dela Cruz added. “It is important for us to continue holding spaces and conversations that support our individual and collective healing.”
He never turned around at the end of the tunnel; she never knew that picture in her photo album was her last picture with all the sorority sisters. But the Gaucho community will continue to honor the lives of the six warriors while peace, love, and solidarity continue to grow in Isla Vista and among the souls of Gauchos.