Tragedy in Isla Vista

islavista

I felt the need to take a few minutes to reflect on the tragic events that recently took place in the college community of Isla Vista since for our family, and for so many others, it struck so close to home. My youngest son, Adam, is currently completing his first year at UC Santa Barbara and will be living in a shared apartment in Isla Vista as he starts the new school year come September.

Two of the six victims were from San Jose, one was from Fremont, and one was a classmate of our boys in high school. We’ve witnessed many of these senseless killings in the news but this was us, this was our school, these were our children. I won’t be addressing many of the topics that have risen out of this. I am writing this post solely to express my deepest sympathies to the families of those lost, to the students who are recovering from injuries, and all of the students and staff of UC Santa Barbara who are left to deal with the aftermath of this horrendous act of violence.

View of downtown Santa Barbara from the wharf

View of downtown Santa Barbara from the wharf

Santa Barbara is truly one of the most beautiful places I’ve ever visited. Our first tour of the campus was almost magical. We were greeted by happy, smiling students and staff, stunning blue skies, and perfect California weather. My water polo playing son was immediately at home there and I knew it would end up being his school of choice. He belonged there. He worked hard to achieve academic success in high school and we left the decision completely up to him, as it should be.

Santa Barbara

View of the ocean from the wharf

My husband and I attended the student and parent orientation last year and I had my first introduction to the small, beach side community of Isla Vista which is home to many of the students that live off-campus. We sat through several on-campus presentations designed to calm the nerves of the first-timers; the parents who were sending kids off to college for the first time. For the last presentation, we were asked to head over to Isla Vista, which is an easy walking distance from campus. We were ushered into the Isla Vista Theater and took our seats. Most of the information being presented was old news to us veterans. Towards the end, my husband and I turned to each other and with some eye movements and head nods, silently communicated that we should ditch the remainder of the presentation. We discreetly slipped out the back and headed to the beach; just steps away. We sat for a few minutes and marveled at how lucky our son would be to go to school in such a beautiful setting.

This image came reeling back to me when I heard the news. It was unreal that something so horrific could take place there.

Santa Barbara

Adam and Mom on move in day

He decided just days before Memorial Day weekend to hitch a ride with some friends who were heading home to San Jose. It was an unexpected but very pleasant surprise and I immediately started planning for a big meal now that our family would be together. They set out on Friday for the four hour drive home. Early on Saturday morning while my son slept, my husband and I were up early taking care of the usual morning rituals when we heard the news. I can’t tell you the relief that poured over me, knowing that he was safely upstairs in his room. I didn’t have to go through what so many other parents experienced, that horrendous few minutes or few hours, waiting to hear from their child that they were safe. And, for some, the news they received was every parent’s worst nightmare.  It’s inconceivable what these parents have had to go through. We are humbled by their strength and grace.

Image via latimes.com

Being home while the events unfolded was a mixed bag of emotions for my son. It took some time for the names of those injured and killed to be released and the wait was difficult. He felt a pull to return so he could be together with his friends and the UC Santa Barbara community as they began to digest the situation and mourn those lost. He went back after the long weekend and he noted that “the pace of everything has seemed to slow down. People are reaching out to one another, talking more, being respectful and kind to one another.” He has seen strangers comforting each other. Visiting the memorials has been a powerful experience for him; so much more than seeing it in the media.

If you ask Adam how he feels about going to school at UCSB his response is always the same, “I love it.” No hesitation. He loves it. His classmates, his professors, his classes, the setting, the activities, the community of Isla Vista, all of it. This has not changed.

Something happens to you when you raise a child into young adulthood. I was commenting about the phenomena to my husband the other day as we drove past the boys’ high school and saw all the students, bogged down with their heavy backpacks, streaming across the street. They aren’t yours, but you can see your children in them and these strangers have the power to make your heart swell. This is when you realize that your love has spilled over. We all love and care for each other’s children. If you are a parent, I’m sure you’ll get this. It’s with this love that I want to express my deep sorrow and heart felt sympathies to the families of those lost. The entire community of students, parents, and school staff is grieving along with them.

Christopher Michaels-Martinez, 20; Weihan “David” Wang, 20; Cheng Yuan “James” Hong, 20; Veronika Weiss, 19; Katie Cooper, 22; and George Chen, 19. Six wonderful, bright, promising young adults. They will be painfully missed and never forgotten.

I’d like to thank the school administration for the excellent and frequent communication to parents throughout this ordeal and for providing resources to the students through the entire holiday weekend and beyond. They have provided professional counselors to students, faculty, and staff and appropriately canceled classes on Tuesday so there was time to reflect, mourn those lost, and begin the process of healing. They have established The UC Santa Barbara Community Fund to honor the students who were victims of this tragedy and to memorialize their lasting impact and contributions to the UC Santa Barbara community. This event is in no way a reflection on the school or surrounding community. It was a completely random, senseless act that unfortunately, could happen anywhere.

The strength and resilience of our young people after an incomprehensible tragedy like this is something we wish we never had to witness. I watch it from a distance but my heart is there.

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12 thoughts on “Tragedy in Isla Vista

  1. A lovely article and photographs too. Thank you for taking the time to put your feelings down on paper for the reader to digest. I’m glad your son was safe from harm, and I wish him all the best for his next year at UCSB.

  2. Valerie, thank you so much for taking time and being vulnerable to share your heart. Loss of a child is inconceivable, and our hearts are with those who have experienced the brokenness in this situation.

  3. This is very sweet of you to write this post. Even though I didn`t go to UCSB, my sisters and I all attend a different UC school, so we all felt a sense of community with this event. I`m very sadden by this tragedy. A friend of mine went to school with one of the victims. It`s truly heartbreaking. My mom even commented that it`s a terrible thing to outlive your children. Thankfully, your son was safe. Here`s to hoping for a safer and happier future!

  4. These tragedies always make my heartache, but I can’t imagine when it hits so close to home. I’m glad your son is safe, as well as sad for those who’ve lost loved ones.

  5. Hi, Valerie. We went through something similar with the DeKalb (Northern Illinois University) shooting in 2008. A neighbor family whom we are close to had a son attending NIU at the time; it was rough waiting to hear if he was okay, which he was. Another family at our church had a daughter who was killed that day. Her father went on to write a book, Cartwheels in the Rain, about their process of recovery.

    • I’m so sorry to hear how closely you’ve been affected by one of these awful tragedies. Thank you for sharing your story here. The strength of these parents who try and do something to make sense out of something so senseless is truly amazing.

  6. Valerie,
    I cannot imagine what it must be like to have a child who was at that school when this happened. I agree that they all feel like our kids. My heart goes out to all those families of those sweet children. Thanks for this thoughtful post…
    Kim

  7. Very nice post about a terrible tragedy, Valerie. You’ve shared a lot with us about your family, and this hit way too close to home. Very glad your son was home with you. Although I’m not a family man per se, just me, my wife, and the dog, it breaks my heart to see these beautiful young people taken away.
    I hope we can put a stop to these senseless tragedies.
    All the best.

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