After more than a month of devastation from natural disasters in Santa Barbara County, over 1,000 community members gathered Sunday evening at the Santa Barbara Courthouse to mourn the lives lost in last week’s mudslides in Montecito.
Attendees held L.E.D. lights and candles that shone brightly as the sun began to set over the courthouse. As the names and ages of those who died in the mudslides were read aloud, community members quietly shed tears with the pain of losing a friend, neighbor or family member.
At least 20 people lost their life in the mudslides that occurred early Tuesday morning.
Jonathan Benitez: 10 years old
Kailly Benitez: 3 years old
Joseph Francis Bleckel: 87 years old
Martin Cabrera-Munoz: 48 years old
David Cantin: 49 years old
Morgan Corey: 25 years old
Sawyer Corey: 12 years old
Peter Fleurat: 73 years old
Josephine Gower: 69 years old
John McManigal: 61 years old
Alice Mitchell: 78 years old
James Mitchell: 89 years old
Caroline Montgomery: 22 years old
Mark Montgomery: 54 years old
Marilyn Ramos: 27 years old
Rebecca Riskin: 61 years old
Roy Rohter: 84 years old
Pinit Sutthithepa: 30 years old
Peerawat Sutthithepa: 6 years old
Richard Loring Taylor: 79 years old
Local elected and community leaders organized the vigil, including First District Supervisor Das Williams, County Board of Supervisors Chair Joan Hartmann, State Senator Hannah Beth Jackson and Congressman Salud Carbajal.
Members of the Christian, Jewish, Muslim and Buddhist faiths also came to support the community in its grief. Attendees were encouraged to write messages on The Healing Wall. The wall was covered with words of hope for the community by the end of the vigil, including “be strong” and “love is all we need.”
Many speakers reminded the audience that all community members may experience grief and trauma in the wake of such destruction and loss, even if they were not directly affected by the Thomas Fire or mudslides.
“It’s important that we take time to reflect on all that we have felt,” said Alana Walczak, the executive director of Child Abuse Listening Mediation. She added that that trauma is a “long-term process” that must be addressed in order for one to begin healing.
Cheers erupted from the audience in support of the firefighters, law enforcement, first responders, search and rescue and media crews that have bravely worked in extreme conditions to save lives and provide coverage of the Thomas Fire and mudslides.
“Those and everyone on our front lines are not walking wounded,” said District Attorney Joyce Dudley. “We are not walking wounded, [and] they are are our heroes and they have broken hearts.”
Dudley’s son is a firefighter and has spent the last week rescuing people from the thick mud in Montecito, she said, adding that it is “impossible for any of us to come away from this unaffected.”
Jackson reminded the audience that a community better understands its strength when it is tested with challenges.
“We come together to grieve and regroup because it is in times like this that the true … potential of us as a community, as human beings, takes place,” she said.
The audience came together in a song as the sun disappeared behind the courthouse. Reverend David Moore of the New Covenant Worship Center began to sing, encouraging attendees to join in.
“Keep your hand on the plow, hold on,” the community sang as one voice, repeating once more. “Keep your hand on the plow, hold on.”