United, even if strangers, by the black ribbons pinned to their UCSB T-shirts and hoodies, they made their way into Harder Stadium on Tuesday afternoon until its 17,000 bleacher seats filled. They then took to the 1,800 chairs on the field, and when those filled up, they sat down on the grass. The 20,000-person crowd had quadrupled in size from three nights prior, when thousands held candles as they silently marched from Storke Plaza to Anisq’Oyo’ Park in Isla Vista and provided each other with solace in the form of stories and solidarity.
The UCSB students and the greater Isla Vista community were just days removed from the kind of atrocity that hurts badly enough when it happens somewhere else but produces a whole new pain when it happens in the idyllic streets of your home. But even in the face of such horror — six of their friends and classmates killed — the UCSB students sought comfort in each other and in their community, inspiring hashtags like #ivstrong and #gauchostrong and promising to be there for each other in the difficult times ahead.
Santa Barbara has been in mourning since, with the region’s residents and elected representatives joining in the students’ grief. Other University of California campuses have shown their support, organizing vigils and sending their counselors to console the UCSB students. And on Tuesday, the students continued to be there for each other, hugging, crying, and, at one point, even laughing together as they looked back on the last five days and ahead to the future.
On the night of Friday, May 23, Isla Vista resident Elliot Rodger, 22, began a rampage on the college town’s streets, shooting three young people dead after stabbing three others to death in his apartment. He then killed himself, ending what he said in his videos and writings was a life of loneliness brought about by women’s rejections. Thirteen others were injured — all are expected to make full recoveries — either by bullets or trauma from Rodger’s car (the cause of one injury is still unclear). His public massacre lasted just 10 minutes but took away the lifetimes of Katie Cooper, 22; Veronika Weiss, 19; Christopher Michaels-Martinez, 20; Cheng Yuan “James” Hong, 20; George Chen, 19; and Weihan “David” Wang, 20.
The question of why might not ever have an answer, many said on Tuesday. But questions about treatment of mental illness (or lack thereof), of gun control (spearheaded by Michaels-Martinez’s father), and of how men view women (noted on social media by #YesAllWomen) have since proved to be areas worth exploring. Also discussed by students has been the national media’s role in their tragedy, with students protesting the presence of broadcast vans on every Isla Vista curb.
Though reeling, Isla Vistans are very vocal in their gratitude to the authorities who helped prevent the rampage from worsening; they adorned a “Thank You” banner on the outside wall of the Foot Patrol’s headquarters, which continues to pick up new signatures of support. They have thanked the paramedics for responding rapidly, the doctors for saving the 13 injured, and the counselors for being there for them now and in the weeks to come. And if there was any inkling that Isla Vista, making headlines in recent months for gang rapes and a Deltopia riot, was a community divided, the candlelit vigil the students organized the day after — where they told equally humorous and heartbreaking tales of their departed friends — dismissed that notion entirely.
So did Tuesday’s memorial, with some help from Michaels-Martinez’s dad, Richard Martinez. He started with a story about how when Chris was 8 years old, he wanted to play football. Richard was hesitant, he said, but Chris did it anyway. At a scrimmage his dad went to with him, Chris got knocked over by a fullback, Richard remembered, recalling how he thought, “Oh my God, he must be hurt.” But to his father’s surprise, Chris “hopped back up” and “walked determinedly” back to the game. “That’s the kind of kid Chris was,” Richard said.
Diverging in his story, temporarily, Richard, whose grief has joined anger at the National Rifle Association and the politicians who support it, roused the crowd from their sorrow. He got them to stand up and chant, “Not one more!” as a call to end gun violence (and a now-popular hashtag itself on social media, with thousands of posts in minutes). He even got them to laugh, admitting he didn’t know what a hashtag was but joking that they don’t know what postcards are. But what Richard did know was a story about football and what Chris’s actions in a scrimmage could teach the students, faculty, and Isla Vista community about life. “Like Christopher that day,” his dad said, “I want you to get back up and walk determinedly forward.”
In the following pages, you’ll find complete coverage of the tragedy and its aftermath from The Santa Barbara Independent’s news team — many of us Gauchos ourselves — as we and the rest of Santa Barbara try to understand what happened … and what happens next.
By Paul Wellman