It doesn’t matter where you are or what you’re doing at the time, bad news always sucks. It was Saturday, and I was at the SoCal BMX Nationals in Ontario getting ready for a practice lap when the mom of one of my racing buddies broke the tragic news to me. When you hear such terrible news there’s always an initial selfish reaction that makes someone say, "Please God, please don’t let it be anyone I know," and there was not exception on my part. My mom was no exception either. She left me a frantic phone message checking on my well-being, so a call was made immediately to assure her that her only child was nowhere near the carnage of Friday night.
As my mom and I spoke, I expressed sorrow for those innocent young people killed and injured, and anger toward the suspect who caused this. Most of us never met any of the people involved, but that didn’t matter. It hit so close to home.
As we watched the ghastly images on the grainy home video tape play on CNN, the full impact of the carnage started to hit me, and my friends could see it. Very seldom do I cry or does my voice choke, but this time it happened.
The next phase is when you try to make sense out of the tragedy. Why did this happen? These kids were so young with promising lives. Why? Anger started to well up inside me again, but not only at the evil individual that chose to take four innocent lives and critically wound another. My anger was also directed at the media’s portrayal of my hometown. It wasn’t even a day before all of the "investigative reports" from major networks started to materialize, saying that it was no surprise this tragedy occurred due to Isla Vista’s "party nature" coupled with narrow streets and crowded conditions.
As a longtime resident of this town I could agree with those observations made by ignorant outsiders whose sole intention is to boost their network’s Nielsen ratings.
I could, but didn’t, based on the facts. While the above conditions do exist, there also exists motor vehicle codes that prohibit driving under the influence of any intoxicating substance – though whether or not the culprit was intoxicated is still unclear – and prohibit driving at excessive speeds through residential neighborhoods. Basically stated, this tragedy could’ve happened anywhere, but this time it happened here, in our little haven, away from places where these things usually occur.
Saturday was an ugly day. It rained all day long, we raced in ankle-deep mud, it was cold, my BMX bike was caked with mud and the event dragged on way past midnight. We were wet, tired, cold and hungry, but things could have been so much worse. I could’ve been in my hometown of Isla Vista on the night of the tragedy, and been either a witness or victim to the tragic series of events that unfolded. Anywhere was better than here in I.V.
It sometimes takes a tragedy such as this one to make you realize the beauty of everything around you, and give you a fresh perspective on the meaning of life.
This weekend the opportunity to think about many things was presented to me and thoughts on the four victims plagued me incessantly. These were four good people who never did anything to anyone, that most of us never got to meet, and thanks to someone’s evil act, we will never get to meet them. The loss is truly ours.
At 1 a.m. on that cold and rainy night my fellow racers and I got up to the gate pad for our main (final). Time seemed to go slower than usual and this compelled me to do something I don’t believe I’ve ever done. I’ve never been religious or much of a praying person, but before we got up on the starting gate, the time was taken to say a prayer for the four young people most of us never met and for the safe recovery of the injured victim. I didn’t even know their names at the time, but that didn’t matter. I just felt that it was finally time to say something, anything, to whomever it is that will listen to such prayers. My only hope is that they were heard.
As this is written there are still tears in my eyes. Coming back home on Sunday was like never before. Something had been taken from our little community, and we’ll never get it back.
This is written in loving memory of Nicholas Bourdakis, Christopher Divis, Ruth Levy and Elie Israel. We never met, someday we will. We all miss you and always will.
Henry Sarria is a longtime Isla Vista resident.