Candlelight Vigil Commemorates Fifth Anniversary of the Isla Vista Tragedy

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Photo by Sonia Fernandez

Alondra Sierra
Incoming Features Editor

With blue-lit candles and white roses in hand, students, families, and community members walked together from Storke Plaza towards Anis’q’Oyo Park to commemorate those lost and cherished on May 23, 2014: George Chen, Katherine Cooper, Cheng Yuan “James” Hong, Christopher Michaels-Martinez, Weihan “David” Wang, and Veronika Weiss.

Associated Students organized a vigil on Thursday evening to mark the fifth anniversary of the Isla Vista tragedy that took the lives of six students, as part of a week of events meant  for remembrance, reflection, and healing.

Before the march, attendants gathered at Storke Lawn, where six memorial boards stood on display honoring those lost with the original notes written in chalk just days following the tragedy. Echoing sentiments of strength and resiliency, notes read, “Stay Strong I.V.” and “Together as One.”

After arriving at the Love and Remembrance Garden at People’s Park, attendants placed roses on the six benches that honored the students with individual picture frames.

Shortly after, at Anis’q’Oyo Park, the vigil began with “Hope in the Labyrinth,” an original composition performed at past vigils and composed by UCSB Ph.D candidate in music Heena Yoon. This year, cellist Kira Weiss performed the piece, welcoming the community as they gathered around the amphitheater.

“We hope that these events can be spaces where everyone can be welcome in the community as we continue to heal,” said outgoing External Vice President for Local Affairs (EVPLA) Jeike Meijer, who led the event alongside Isla Vista Community Advisor Diana Collins Puente.

Chancellor Henry T. Yang was the first to speak, sharing words on solidarity and community resilience.

“Their time was short but their impact was forever,” said Yang. “We’re all still shaken by their loss but also emboldened by our memories of them to live more freely.”

Other speakers shared their experience on the day of the tragedy. UCPD officer Ariel Bourges was a recent UCSB graduate and aspiring police officer at the time of the tragedy.  That night he had joined an officer in a ride-along.

“Less than 30 minutes into my first police ride-along, the shooting started,” said Bourges, holding back tears. “I got a front row seat to things that no one should ever have to see.”

Bourges was astonished by the community’s response in the aftermath, as were the majority of the speakers who stood on stage.

Following a restless year that contained a meningitis outbreak, two consecutive gang rapes, and the Deltopia riots, the Director of the Educational Opportunity Program Aaron Jones described, it was as if the community had said “enough” in response to the shootings.

“The outpouring of love, and the outcry, and the art, and the pain that was shared, it was one of the most tragic and beautiful things I’ve experienced in my life simultaneously,” remembers Jones.

It’s the kind of community that Katherine Cooper first fell in love with as a freshman, according to her father Dan Cooper, who spoke about his daughter’s motto: living life to the fullest.

Cooper encouraged the students in attendance to do the same: live life without regrets. With a similar message, Richard Martinez, father of Christopher Michaels-Martinez, recited the poem “Responsibility to Light” by Courtney Martin. Although originally directed towards artists, the poem is about resilience in the face of dark times.  

The last parent to speak was Kelly Wang, mother of Weihan “David” Wang.

Wang described the heartbreak of not being able to see her son’s face when she returns home. But through her grief, she shared some advice and encouraging words for students.

“First I want to say, with a mother’s heart, I care about you,” said Wang. She asked those in attendance to be brave during challenging times and to never stop being kind to others.

“I want to tell you I love you. And I want to tell you love is stronger than hate and love is stronger than death.”

As the event culminated, Rick Benjamin, an Associate Director at UCSB’s Interdisciplinary Humanities Center, ended by reciting a spoken word poem.

But even after the vigil concluded–and in spite of the chilly weather–the community remained at Anis’q’Oyo, exchanging hugs and words of comfort, support and resilience.

The vigil, which occurred on Thursday, May 23, marked the finale of a weeklong series of community events designed to commemorate the fifth anniversary of the 2014 shooting in Isla Vista. The agenda can be found here. If you or a loved one is in need of faculty, administrative, or student support during this time, please utilize this list of campus resources.