Tuesday marks exactly three years since the shooting of May 23, 2014, wherein a gunman embarked on a rampage through Isla Vista that killed six UC Santa Barbara students and injured 14 others.
The events of May 2014 continue to evoke deep emotional pain amongst those personally touched by the loss of these students.
Community members gathered Monday evening at the MultiCultural Center, however, not to relate the trauma but to retrace the memorialization that took place following the tragedy that redefined I.V.
“Healing takes many forms,” Vice Chancellor Margaret Klawunn said at the beginning of the night. “I believe that the efforts and projects you will hear about tonight have been central to the resiliency and recovery of our community over the last three years.”
Panelists took the stage to explain a series of memorializations that occurred hours, days and years after May 23, 2014.
In the Immediate Aftermath
Annie Platoff, an archivist from the UCSB Library, recounted how Isla Vista residents created several “spontaneous memorials” throughout I.V. soon after the deaths took place.
There were four major memorial sites where community members placed flowers, candles and notes to honor the shooting victims. Three of the sites were placed at locations near where students died, Platoff said, and the fourth site was at the 7-Eleven where many were injured.
One memorial was placed in front of the Alpha Phi chapter along Embarcadero Del Norte, the site near where Veronika Weiss and Katherine Cooper died. This memorial, Platoff said, attained a large participation from the Greek community.
Residents built another memorial at Capri Apartments, the location where George Chen, David Wang and James Hong died. Platoff said many of the objects here included origami and notes written in Chinese.
One other memorial was built by IV Deli Mart, the site of Christopher Michaels-Martinez’s death. Here, many mourners placed notes inscribed with “Not One More,” a phrase that Michaels-Martinez’s father, Richard Martinez, had coined in a push for gun control days later.
Panelist Melissa Barthelemy, a graduate student whose thesis is about the memorialization that took place after the tragedy, remembers how three UCSB students wanted to protest the perceived misogyny that perpetuated the violence days before.
Barthelemy said the students felt disheartened by their small numbers, but she encouraged them to protest anyway.
The news media picked up on the march, and the students ended up being featured on the front page of The New York Times.
“Nobody said there were only four people. That was not in any of the coverage,” Barthelemy said.
Associated Students staffer Aaron Jones also joined the panel, discussing how student leaders had quickly mobilized memorial efforts, despite being sworn in just days before.
The A.S. executives had proposed to put up several chalkboard walls in front of the A.S. Pardall Center on which residents could write messages for each victim. Jones said Home Depot donated most of the materials for the chalkboards.
“The assistant manager I spoke with … said verbatim, ‘Short of everything in the store, whatever you need,’” Jones said.
Jones recounted also how administration organized a candlelight vigil the night following the shooting. Thousands gathered in Storke Plaza and walked through the streets of I.V. to mourn the loss of their fellow students.
Days later, approximately 20,000 students and community members gathered for another memorial service in Harder Stadium. It was at this event, Jones said, where Martinez’s father coined the phrase “Not One More,” prompting attendees to shout it with him “at the top of their voice.”
Almost a week after the tragedy, students organized a paddle out during which surfers, kayakers and paddleboarders formed a circle 50 yards from an Isla Vista beach. There were nearly 4,000 community members witnessing from on shore.
Barthelemy said Trader Joe’s donated the flowers used for the paddle-out.
In the Years to Follow
Over the course of the first year after May 23, 2014, students and volunteers began to archive much of the work done to memorialize the shooting.
UCSB alumna Lauren Trujillo, who served as a panelist on Monday, was one of the lead interns tasked with collecting memorial objects that would later be used for an exhibition titled, “We Remember Them.” Trujillo was an active member of the Delta Delta Delta sorority at the time and said she had a “personal connection” with victims Weiss and Cooper.
The exhibit featured sentimental objects — such as a signed water polo ball for Weiss and signed dance shoes for Cooper — placed at each of the “spontaneous memorials” located around I.V. in the aftermath of the shooting.
“This project was a blessing for me,” Trujillo said. “It was deeply meaningful for me to create such a healing memorial for our community.”
Barthelemy pointed several other memorial efforts that continue to this day.
She said the students who organized the feminist march also had the idea to set up a permanent structure on campus in remembrance of the victims. Today, there now stands The Memorial Wall next to South Hall, inscribed with messages from students to each of the six victims.
The very corner of the structure bears the phrase, “To all of our Gauchos who did not live long enough to graduate,” which Barthelemy said repurposes the structure to memorialize all student deaths, not just the deaths that occurred on May 23, 2014.
Barthelemy also highlighted Blunite as a memorial effort that arose in the years following the shooting. Blunite is a commemorative art project revived every May during which volunteers decorate much of Isla Vista and UCSB with blue lights.
Barthelemy said the project, headed by art professor Kim Yasuda, is intended to “draw awareness” to the “darkness” of Isla Vista.
Pushes for gun reform also became means of memorializing the lives lost from the May 2014 shooting, she said. The fathers of Weiss and Martinez continue to be gun control advocates, and she cited how Weiss called his daughter a “martyr” for gun control during a Concert Across America to End Gun Violence that took place in September.
The families also lobbied in Sacramento for Assembly Bill 1014, a piece of legislation allowing a judge to order for a gun to be removed from an individual determined to be an active threat. The bill moved through the state legislature in “record speed,” Barthelemy said, and was signed into law in October 2014.
“For the families … they really say that for them honoring the memory of their child is trying to prevent these future atrocities from occurring,” Barthelemy said.
The I.V. Love and Remembrance Garden, located in People’s Park, also stands as a permanent memorial to the six victims, Barthelemy said. Volunteers fashioned each of the six benches to reflect the personal interests of each of the students.
“It’s been really great to see how something so horrible has really made me realize how strong a community there is here,” Barthelemy said.
There will be a candlelight vigil 7-9 p.m. Tuesday night in Anisq’Oyo’ Park for community members to remember the victims who died three years ago.
The UCSB Surf Team will also be hosting another paddle out 6 p.m. Wednesday at Depressions Beach near Manzanita Village. Organizers encourage participants to bring surfboards, paddleboards or any other floatation device.