The UCSB campus flag flew at half-staff yesterday, as hundreds of local residents and community leaders gathered at the Events Center to pay tribute to the seven local residents shot and killed by Jennifer San Marco on Jan. 30.
Approximately 600 people attended the 2 p.m. memorial gathering, including Congresswoman Lois Capps, Assemblyman Pedro Nava, California Senator Abel Maldonado, California Senator Tom McClintock and 3rd District Supervisor Brooks Firestone. Firestone, who coordinated the event with Goleta City Mayor Jonny Wallis, said the memorial was held to honor and commemorate the lives of Charlotte Colton, Ze Fairchild, Beverly Graham, Nicola Grant, Maleka Higgins, Dexter Shannon and Guadalupe Swartz.
Local clergy and community leaders, including Wallis, UCSB Chancellor Henry Yang, Sheriff Jim Anderson, Vice President of Pacific Area Operations for the U.S. Postal Service Al Iniguez and Father Luis Quihuis of St. Marks Church spoke at the event. The speakers focused on the impact of the incident – in which Jennifer San Marco shot and killed her former neighbor before opening fire at the Goleta Postal Distribution Cente, ultimately taking her own life – on the community, as well as on the families and friends of each individual victim.
At least 50 family members and friends of the deceased came to the event. The family of every victim who was a postal employee received the Postmaster General’s Medal of Freedom. Graham’s family received a flag from Capps. The family members also received letters from Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger, plaques from the city of Goleta and resolutions from state senators McClintock and Maldonado.
Chancellor Yang spoke on behalf of the university and welcomed the audience to the Events Center. He said the high turnout at the event proved how important the deceased were to their friends, family and neighbors.
“This tremendous turnout today is a tribute to those we remember,” Yang said.
Iniguez spoke on behalf of Postmaster General John Potter, who was stranded in Washington, D.C. due to a snowstorm. He said six of the victims were postal employees and one was a former phone company employee, and they all deserve to be honored by the community.
“These were men and women who have made this country great,” Iniguez said. “They were hard workers, family people, good neighbors. It is their basic humanity and decency that stands out.”
Iniguez said Colton, a mother of three boys, was known for her energy and her support for Boy Scout Troop #1. Fairchild was a first-generation American from Laos, and Grant was from a family with a long tradition of employment in the postal service. Iniguez said Higgins loved music and fashion, Shannon was dedicated to his five children and six grandchildren, and Swartz is survived by a daughter and a son – as well as five grandchildren.
“We have learned from their example how a single, well-lived life can touch so many with such good will,” Iniguez said.
Congresswoman Capps presented the family of Beverly Graham, the only victim not affiliated with the post office, with a flag that once flew above the Capitol Building.
In an impromptu speech, Graham’s boyfriend Ed Blomfield got up on the stage and expressed his sorrow. He said he hopes the incident teaches local residents and people around the world the importance of tolerance and joining together as a community.
“I would like to proclaim that the city of Santa Barbara would be a hate-free zone,” Blomfield said.
In his speech at the memorial, Quihuis said he thinks it is important that the shooting does not inspire anyone with hatred or thoughts of revenge. He said he feels members of the community should support each other while grieving for the victims.
“Monday, January 30 was a great day of tragedy and sorrow – a day that will live within each one of us, a day that was bathed in tears, one that none of us will forget,” Quihuis said. “Let us not let hate, guilt, greed, revenge or anger … separate us from our ability to love each other.”
Reverend Mark Gardner of the Goleta Valley Cottage Hospital told the audience that he has never seen an incident affect as many people as the shooting, even though he worked for many years as a hospice chaplain. He said he does not know how to explain why tragedies like the shooting occur.
“I cannot stand here and say anything to make sense of the why such wonderful people, such as Charlotte, Ze, Beverly, Nicola, Maleka, Dexter and Guadalupe were struck down in the midst of their glorious lives,” Gardner said.
Karen Edwards, a former post office employee of seven years, said she attended the memorial because of the connection she and her fellow postal employees felt with the victims. She said she is a resident of the Santa Ynez Valley, but she feels camaraderie with all postal workers.
Twenty members of the Pi Kappa Alpha (PIKE) fraternity were also present at the event. David Bodrey, a PIKE member and undeclared second-year student, said the fraternity volunteered to help direct crowds during the memorial.
“As a frat, we’d just like to support the community through this grieving period,” Bodrey said.
Red Cross employee Fred Samuel said volunteers from the Red Cross were also at the event to provide support to attendees and the victims’ families, including offering individual packets of tissues to those entering the memorial. Twenty workers from Santa Barbara County Alcohol, Drug and Mental Health Services also attended the memorial to provide counseling to anyone in need.
At the end of the event, Wallis told the crowd that she thinks the memorial helped provide solace to those who attended.
“I hope you were as comforted by [the service] today as I am,” Wallis said.