May 23, 2020 marks six years since a horrific tragedy occurred in Isla Vista. Community members George Chen, Cheng Yuan “James” Hong, Weihan “David” Wang, Katherine Breann Cooper, Christopher Ross Michaels-Martinez and Veronika Elizabeth Weiss lost their lives in an act of violence that sent waves of shock and grief through our community and the nation.
Each year, the community unites to honor those who lost their lives. But on the sixth anniversary of the tragedy, a day on which our community should be mourning together, we are forced to mourn apart. We at the Nexus understand the impact that this tragedy has had on our community and offer our support for those of you who are mourning in quarantine this year.
This year, the Nexus reached out to members of the Isla Vista and UC Santa Barbara community and asked them to write about how they have been impacted by the I.V. Tragedy and how they will be memorializing those who lost their lives.
— Editor-In-Chief Harper Lambert and Managing Editor Evelyn Spence
We invite you to share your own reflections here for publication in the Nexus. Please keep submissions between 200 and 500 words. Submissions may be lightly edited for length and clarity.
Katya Armistead — UCSB Assistant Vice Chancellor & Dean of Student Life
The anniversary of the May 23, 2014 tragedy is especially meaningful to me as I took the lead on working closely with students as they planned events to help the community heal. A couple of salient memories of the time for me include having to tell the women of Tri Delta that they had lost two of their members due to a senseless act of violence. A happier memory is creating the I Heart UCSB Pledge with student leaders that is now read with all new UCSB students during orientation as they receive the I Heart UCSB pin. I will be remembering the students we lost this Saturday while I visit the benches created in their memory, located in the Love and Remembrance Garden that I helped envision and organize.
Yasamin Salari — 2020-21 EVPLA
Isla Vista has been the first place I’ve felt at home since I moved to the U.S. The vibrant sense of community, the friends who have supported me through all my ups and downs in the past three years and the mere beauty of our campus are just a few reasons I’ve felt so welcomed here. Our beautiful town has also endured great hardships. I was only a freshman in high school when the May 23, 2014 tragedy occurred in I.V., but my brother was a student at UCSB at that time and I remember so distinctly the sense of grief that took over my family that night. Although it was the immense sense of grief that brought together our community at first, we have continued to commemorate this day by remembering and honoring the lives lost on May 23.
Christian Ornelas — 2019-20 EVPLA
For the last four years, Isla Vista has been my home. It has sheltered me and given me the tools I needed to grow. In my role as the External Vice President for Local Affairs, I had the privilege of developing relationships with the many people that dedicate their lives to making this community a safe and inclusive home for all of us. This special little place by the sea has taught me the value of friends, neighbors and community.
Although I was not in Isla Vista on May 23, 2014, I continue to feel the collective grief shared by our community. The aftermath of that day brought together a beloved community that continues to memorialize the lives lost. We remember George Chen, Katherine Breann Cooper, Cheng Yuan “James” Hong, Christopher Ross Michaels-Martinez, Weihan “David” Wang and Veronika Elizabeth Weiss. If you find yourself in I.V. on Saturday, I invite you to pick some flowers and leave them at the Isla Vista Love and Remembrance Garden adjacent to Embarcadero Hall in People’s Park.
To all the caretakers of Isla Vista — thank you. Let us never forget about the events that took place in 2014, and let us always remember to move forward with love and compassion in honor of those we lost.
Jeike Meijer — 2018-19 EVPLA
With the painful circumstance of being physically separated this year, it is really difficult to come together and mourn in community. We are learning non-physical ways to show our remembrance. This year, I’ll be using virtual ways to send remembrance to the lives lost and the friends and families of the victims. I also will be giving energy and healing to the first responders and community members whose lives were so pivotally impacted on this day of tragedy.
I will also be stopping by the Remembrance Garden on May 23 to mourn because that has become a place of gathering to honor the six lives lost. George Chen, Cheng Yuan “James” Hong, Weihan “David” Wang, Katherine Cooper, Christopher Michael-Martinez, Veronika Weiss: You will never be forgotten.
Spencer Brandt — President of the Board of Directors of Isla Vista Community Services District
My generation of students was the first to be fully removed from the May 23 tragedy. Unlike many of my friends that I would come to know and love, we were not in harm’s way when shots were fired. I was sitting at my parents house, watching the gruesome news unfold on Twitter. As I scrolled down the timeline, it became clear that the killer had left a manifesto of misogynistic ramblings that provided a clear motive for the violence. Soon, in a reaction to many users arguing that “not all men” held such misogynistic views, #YesAllWomen began trending, drawing attention to the harassment and discrimination that women experience every day.
Six years later, we can’t be physically together to memorialize the tragedy. But for me, the distance allows time to reflect on May 23 in ways that I haven’t in the past. This year, I’ve been thinking about how, as a straight white male, the tragedy reminds me of the responsibility I have to live out masculinity in a healthy way. Because toxic masculinity was an important factor in the misogynistic “incel” ideology that the May 23 killer professed.
It is no secret that toxic masculinity abounds in a college town like ours. As an elected official, I spend a lot of time focusing on worst manifestations of it: sexual assault, street harassment and interpersonal violence. And in 2014, mass murder. And while most in I.V. agree that these things are pervasive problems that we ought to solve, there is less discussion about how to promote and cultivate a positive vision of masculinity: one that means loving and respecting others, being honest with yourself about your emotions and desires and taking assertive action to stop unhealthy and harmful behaviors in other men. We owe it to George, James, David, Katherine, Veronika and Chris to have these difficult conversations, and constantly be doing what we can to make IV’s culture more inclusive.
Margaret Klawunn — Vice Chancellor of Student Affairs
I arrived at UCSB in the fall of 2015. I have been honored to participate in important commemorations of the loss this community suffered in 2014 each year that I have been here. This year, I am on my way to the Love and Remembrance Garden to leave flowers there in honor of George Chen, Cheng Yuan “James” Hong, Weihan “David” Wang, Katie Cooper, Christopher Michaels-Martinez and Veronika Weiss. I recognize that others were wounded and many more deeply affected by the violence of May 23, 2014. This year, I am feeling deeply the impact of the coronavirus and the social inequities it has laid bare, and this grief and loss resounds with the misogyny and violence of 2014. It is also evident to me that there has also been some incredible love and light that emerged as this community came together, and I continue to see that strength and power in Isla Vista among students, staff, faculty and residents.
Batsheva Labowe-Stoll — 2017-18 EVPLA
The tragedy that occurred on May 23, 2014 in Isla Vista changed our community forever. The immense grief of students and community members sent shock waves that are still felt today. Yet through all the sadness and fear, Isla Vista came together to create incredible monuments in our community. Through hard work and advocacy, we now have a local government that listens and responds to the needs of its constituents. Today, I.V. is a safer, stronger, more resilient place than it was six years ago. We are more aware, more attentive and have no tolerance for hatred and violence. Our community will forever mourn the unnecessary and tragic deaths that occurred that day, but we will continue to be strong and move forward together.
Jonathan Abboud — General Manager, Isla Vista Community Services District
I still remember the days leading up, the day of and the days after so clearly — it always feels like yesterday. I knew someone who was murdered, some who were injured and countless people who were moments away from having been in the wrong place. I wasn’t in I.V. that night and had just completed my term as student body president, but rushed back as soon as possible the next day. I still hold some guilt over not being in town when it happened.
That night changed me and many others, along with Isla Vista itself, forever. It was actually gut-wrenching at the time to see how Isla Vista was getting the attention it needed only after and because of six people being murdered. Ending the cycle of only supporting Isla Vista after major tragedies was a big reason why we created the Isla Vista Community Services District. I decided to stay in I.V. after graduating in the following weeks to work on this.
Above all, we can never forget those who were taken from us that night (George Chen, Cheng Yuan “James” Hong, Weihan “David” Wang, Katie Cooper, Christopher Michaels-Martinez and Veronika Weiss) and not give any attention to the person behind the tragedy. But it’s also important to remember how May 23 is connected to misogyny, white supremacy, toxic masculinity, gun violence, the incel ideology and in a way our broken mental health system. We need to always push against these things locally and beyond as they continue to drive other tragedies around the country.
This year, I’m staying home and getting in touch with the people who were also affected that night. I will also take a walk through the remembrance garden at the park.
This article will be updated.