Correction: The print edition of this piece contained a misspelling of Cheng Yuan Hong’s name. We are deeply sorry for this error and offer our sincerest apologies to Mr. Hong, his family and loved ones. We take full responsibility and are aware of the severity of this mistake, and we are actively taking steps to ensure this does not happen again.
On May 23, 2014 — five years ago today — six UC Santa Barbara students were killed in Isla Vista.
The last class of students who experienced the shooting first-hand graduated my freshman year. Unlike many UCSB students who learned of the tragedy only after coming here, I knew about it from the day the news broke. I read about it online, talked about it to my friends at school and wept reading stories about the lives cut short and the loved ones they left behind. But no amount of information I read about these horrific events could prepare me for the experience of being immersed in the community that was left reeling from May 23, 2014.
I used to go to open mic nights at Coffee Collaborative with my roommates freshman year. We would spend hours cocooned in one of the funkiest spaces in I.V. However, among its colorful walls, old books and comfy couches, I always fixated on one tiny detail of the space: a bullet hole in the window. Coffee Collab was one of the businesses fired upon during the attack; thankfully nobody was inside. Years later, the bullet hole remains. Coffee Collab played an integral part in the community in preserving these memories and people, not only with the intentionally unrepaired window, but also with the mural on the wall featuring the initials of each person lost that day.
However, these places with strong ties to the community — and with them memories associated with the 2014 tragedy — are starting to leave Isla Vista. As each year passes during my time here at UCSB, I’ve noticed that fewer and fewer people are fully aware of the events that occurred. As places with a physical connection to the shooting leave the community, we cannot allow ourselves to rely on impermanent buildings to do the work of remembering the victims; we must do it ourselves. While tangibility is a powerful link to remembrance, we cannot solely rely on physical objects and places to keep us connected to people worth honoring.
We have reached an era in which many of the survivors no longer populate the streets of I.V., but that does not mean that the activism that was catalyzed by the tragedy has left. It’s on us to celebrate our tight-knit community and its resilience in the face of evil.
One year ago today, before the memorial event for the fourth anniversary of the tragedy, I stumbled upon a scene that gave me a more powerful connection to this event than any other. As I walked down the steps to Storke Plaza, I noticed a man sitting alone. I immediately recognized him as Richard Martinez, the father of Christopher Michaels-Martinez, one of the students lost on May 23, 2014. I remembered his viral heart-wrenching plea for gun control in the days following the attack. As I sat and watched him for a minute, I could feel the palpable grief in his silent moments of reflection. I thought about how he never should have had to be at UCSB that day honoring the son who was stolen from him.
Though the class of 2022 was in middle school and the class of 2019 was still a year away from choosing the colleges they would soon attend, the Isla Vista tragedy is not something that should ever feel far away from us. A tragedy that once felt abstract to me now feels very real. It is our job to carry on the legacies of the people we lost, to advocate for the politics we wish to change and maintain the community that was built out of suffering.
George Chen. Katie Cooper. Cheng Yuan Hong. Christopher Michaels-Martinez. Weihan Wang. Veronika Weiss.