A hush fell over Isla Vista as students, faculty and community members walked from Storke Tower, through the Love and Remembrance Garden in People’s Park and toward Anisq’Oyo Park to remember the six lives lost five years ago Thursday.
The vigil and memorial walk, organized by Jeike Meijer, former external vice president for local affairs, was planned as a recreation of the original vigil held two days after the 2014 shooting.
Close to 150 people gathered at Storke Tower, where Meijer and the Beloved Community Project Co-Chair Diana Collins Puente briefly spoke to the crowd.
Meijer first took a moment to acknowledge the Chumash people’s custodianship of the land and offered her respects to all Chumash elders.
The two also passed out blue LED tealights and flowers to the crowd before the walk began, beginning with the families of the victims.
The path from Pardall Tunnel to Anisq’Oyo Park was lined with white paper bags, each holding a blue tealight and decorated with messages such as “Together We Rise,” “IV Strong” and “Never Forget.”
As the group made its way through I.V., people stepped out of homes and restaurants to silently watch.
Attendees walked through the Love and Remembrance Garden in People’s Park and placed the flowers and tealights on the six benches dedicated to each of the victims. Each bench had a photo of the victim as well as a short paragraph about them.
As the crowd entered Anisq’oyo Park, Kira Weiss, Ph.D. ethnomusicology student at UCSB, played several songs on the cello to welcome them in.
Once everyone was settled in, Weiss played a theme composed by Heena Yoon, Ph.D. candidate in music, three times in a row, and asked the audience to hum along.
The theme, called “Hope in the Labyrinth,” has been played every year since 2014, Weiss said, but this is the first time she has been able to play it at the annual vigil.
“The indication for how to play [the theme] is slowly, in grief, but then it’s also supposed to be hopeful too and I think [Yoon’s] idea with everybody humming together is like trying to find connection and find the strength of our voices together,” Weiss said.
Meijer and Collins Puente spoke once again after the cello music and thanked the audience for attending before introducing the first speaker of the evening, Chancellor Henry T. Yang.
“What a heartfelt turnout from our students, our staff and our colleagues, professors and our community members,” Yang began.
“We are all coming together as a community to honor and remember one of the campus’s most difficult moments. Five years ago, our university faced an unthinkable tragedy. We suffered the tragic loss of six of our own and saw pain inflicted on nine injured. When one hurts, we all hurt.”
Yang went on to name each of the victims and talked about the hopes, dreams and ambitions they carried.
“Each of these six students were shining stars, beaming with the same brilliance and warmth like the candles among us,” Yang said.
“We suffered the tragic loss of six of our own and saw pain inflicted on nine injured. When one hurts, we all hurt.”
The next speaker, UCPD Officer Ariel Bournes, touched upon his own experience as a first responder that night.
Bournes, who studied art at UCSB, worked as a community service officer (CSO) when he attended UCSB.
Bournes later worked on community outreach for the UCSB police department for several years. But at the end of the day, he found that many of the conversations he had with students and community members ended with them expressing frustration that other police officers didn’t feel the same way as he did.
“Most of the conversations ended something like this: ‘Hey Ariel, that was awesome that you came out, and you listened, and you conversed with us. But here’s the thing: you’re not even a police officer!’” Bournes said.
“After I heard that speech one too many times, I decided, ‘I’m gonna become a police officer.’”
As a goofy kid who “regularly walked around with paint splattered on [his] clothing from various art projects [he] was working on,” Bournes said even his own mother didn’t think he could become a police officer.
While he faced the same sentiment from several other police officers in the department, there was one officer who Bournes said gave him a chance.
“One of them said, ‘Okay, you should come on a ride-along with me.’ So we looked at our schedules, we worked it out and we circled the date.”
Bournes paused for a long time, as audience members began to put the story together in their heads.
When he finally spoke again, his voice cracked.
“May 23, 2014.”
“Less than 30 minutes into my first police ride-along, the shooting started. I got a front row seat to things that no one should ever have to see. And here I stand, five years later, now an officer myself, thinking back to that moment, and thinking back to the hundreds and thousands and millions and billions of moments that we all shared as a community in the aftermath.”
But the one thing Bournes wanted attendees to remember was how the community responded.
“We used art and protest and therapy and faith and food and tears and research and collaboration and passion and planning in order to heal and to protect and to overcome. It was exemplary. It was astonishing. And it was, and it is, an honor and a privilege to be counted as even a small piece of this community. Isla Vista, you are the template. You are a gift and we love you.”
Bournes’ remarks were followed by a reading of the names of the victims, a moment of silence and a song of remembrance by Meijer.
Margaret Klawunn, vice chancellor for student affairs, spoke afterward. Klawunn, who arrived on campus in Fall Quarter 2015, spoke about how even though she wasn’t here when the community suffered the tragedy, she was able to see how it came together in the months and years afterward to become stronger.
“We have learned so much about [the victims’] legacies through the values of community here,” she said.
“I love the features of our everyday lives that arise from the love and strength that members of this community found in themselves in 2014, like the cranes in the Student Resource Building, the lights in the tunnel that we walked through tonight and in the Love and Remembrance Garden,” she added.
The parents of Christopher Michaels-Martinez, Katie Cooper and George Chen all spoke at the memorial event as well.
Richard Martinez, Christopher Michaels-Martinez’s father, read a poem by Courtney Martin titled “A Responsibility to Light.”
The poem urged listeners to feel their emotions strongly, even the difficult ones, and to use those feelings to drive them to create art of any kind.
Dan Cooper, Katie Cooper’s father, talked about how much his daughter loved I.V.
“She had offers at three other universities, and came here on an open event; it was kind of an open house, with one of her girl friends. And in about ten minutes she was like ‘This is where I needed to be,’” he said.
“She just loved it, and really felt at home here, and I think that’s a tribute to everybody who’s here today, and what you’ve brought to the community and what you’ve brought to the university.”
Kelly Wang, George Chen’s mother, thanked the audience, and the two fathers, for helping her feel like she isn’t going through this alone.
“As you all see, it’s not easy, and it’s even heartbreaking, for me to be here, because I know at the end of this trip, coming all the way from San Jose, I won’t be able to see the beautiful face of my son George,” Wang said. “However, I choose to stand here, bravely, because I want to share some of the words from my heart with you.”
“First, I want to say, with a mother’s heart, I care about you, and I think every student of UCSB, or every college student, is my child.”
Wang urged audience members to always be kind, even in little ways, to the people around them.
After Wang, several long-time community members – Associated Students Executive Director Marisela Marquez, Ph.D. candidate Melissa Barthelemy, I.V. Community Services District General Manager Jonathan Abboud and Educational Opportunity Program Director Aaron Jones – all spoke about how moved they were by the way I.V. came together in the days after the shooting.
As the memorial came to an end, Collins Puente tearfully thanked the audience for attending.
“And thank you to everyone that continues to create and hold space for our beloved community.”
Arturo Martinez Rivera contributed reporting.
Further photos of all of the memorial events held between May 18 and May 23 can be viewed here.