On the evening of May 23, 2014, I was just stepping out of the shower at my house in San Diego. It was Memorial Day weekend, and freshman me had returned home to spend some time with family and friends.
I walked out of the bathroom and went to check my phone, which I had left to charge on the coffee table in the living room.
Three missed calls and five new messages. Three and five, I’ll never forget that.
All the new alerts were from a friend who was also in San Diego. Not a Gaucho, but someone concerned for my safety nonetheless. All I saw before I called them back was the most recent message: “Are you okay!?” I figured they were playing a prank on me.
But it was not a prank. They gave me the initial details they had gathered via Twitter. I turned on the TV and frantically texted my small group of friends back at school. We didn’t yet know that six lives had been taken. We didn’t yet know that misogyny, delusion and mental illness had coalesced in a horrible crime. We didn’t yet know how the school and the beloved little beachside community would change; we only knew that they would.
There is a definitive “before and after” for Isla Vista now. Younger students cannot understand that. When I returned to I.V. from that Memorial Day trip home, I watched a community grow up overnight. I watched it come together in confusion and in fear, but also in solidarity. Before, Isla Vista had always seemed like a paradise, a place of good-hearted mischief and revelry where nothing too horrible could happen. That changed. A semblance of the fun-loving culture would remain, but the shooting, as tragedies always do, put things into grim perspective.
Teenagers and 20-somethings received a shocking and horrific reminder of their mortality that night. Six people, six young people, six students and members of the Isla Vista community were gone, forever. Had circumstances been different, it could have been anyone else. It could have been no one. Isla Vistans united in the aftermath to mourn and to begin the process of healing, and they did so under the sobering realization that life is fragile and terribly random.
It has been three years now, and I think the I.V. community has changed for the better. It’s not the easiest thing to see day to day, but it has. There is a sense of pride you get from living in the town, a sense of identity and togetherness that I could tell was lacking even when I was a freshman. The event that spurred these developments cannot be changed, but it also cannot be forgotten.
We seniors are leaving soon, and with us will go our memories of the tragedy and of why Isla Vista is how it is now. Future Gauchos will need to take it upon themselves to honor the victims and recognize how their passing shook a student body to its core. They will need to commit themselves to a community that, at least idealistically, is in a new phase of its life. I have faith in them. I have faith in Isla Vista, too.