Just after sundown Thursday evening, the voices of 70 people singing “Amazing Grace” marked the end of a ceremony remembering those lost in a horrific Isla Vista crash five years ago.
No one at the candlelight service, held in I.V.’s Little Acorn Park, mentioned the name of David Attias – the UCSB freshmen whose vehicular rampage on Feb. 23, 2001 killed four people and severely injured a fifth. Instead, Father Jon-Stephen Hedges of St. Athanasius Orthodox Church read the names of Nicholas Bourdakis, Christopher Divis, Elie Israel and Ruth Levy, who died that night on the 6500 block of Sabado Tarde Road. Hedges also read the seven names of those killed in the shooting at a U.S. Postal Service facility in Goleta last month, and the names of over 40 locals who passed away in recent and early I.V. history.
“The purpose of tonight is not to remember the deaths of these four people,” Hedges said. “It is not to memorialize an incident. It is to remember and honor all the precious lives we have lost and to hold them in our hearts and lift them up to God.”
As Hedges and Rabbi Allison Conyer of UCSB Hillel led a responsive reading of the 23rd Psalm, those gathered held long white candles around a mosaic-tiled stone memorial to 20-year-old UCSB students Bourdakis and Divis, 27-year-old San Francisco resident Israel, and Levy, a 20-year-old Santa Barbara City College student. Family members placed pictures of the dead next to permanent plaques bearing their names.
Wearing a black Oakland A’s jacket, Albert Levy knelt down and laid a bouquet of flowers next to a picture of his sister, Ruth. Albert Levy suffered critical head and leg injuries in the 2001 crash, but survived and has since endured countless reconstructive surgeries and hours of physical therapy. He now lives on his own in San Francisco.
In addition to losing his sister, Albert Levy was best friends with Elie Israel.
“I think about my sister and Elie everyday,” Levy said. “I don’t think about this event every day.”
Levy also said he cares about what happens to Attias, but that Attias does not dominate his thoughts.
“I think justice should be done,” he said, “but it’s not something I’m stressing about.”
In 2002, a Santa Barbara jury found Attias guilty on four counts of second-degree murder. A week later, the same jury also found that Attias was insane at the time of the killings. He is currently housed at the Patton State Mental Hospital in San Bernardino, Calif.
After Hedges concluded the service, several dozen people, including Chancellor Yang and his wife, Dilling, 3rd District Supervisor Brooks Firestone, and several firefighters and paramedics came forward to place lighted candles in the earth around the memorial.
Yang, who arrived with his wife at the scene of the 2001 crash shortly after it occurred to console witnesses, described his memory of that night as vivid and sad.
“It is important for us to get together to mourn, to heal and to regain our strength as a community with the lessons we learn,” Yang said after the service. “We definitely do not want to see such tragedies happen again.”
Conyer, who recently took over as the rabbi at UCSB Hillel, said it was only several days ago – when Father Hedges called her to discuss the memorial – that she learned about the 2001 incident and the lives that were lost.
“I think it’s important to tell people about what happened here,” Conyer said. “Looking around here, there’s no question in my mind that this will long continue. I’m honored to be a part of it.”
Levy said the Santa Barbara community has been supportive of his recovery, but he especially hopes that no one forgets his sister and the three others who died that night five years ago.
“I appreciate the support,” Levy said. “I honestly hope they keep all of us in their memory.”
– Staff Writer Taylor Ward contributed to this report