Ever since the deli became an official crime scene and memorial following Friday night’s shooting rampage that left seven people dead — including shooter Elliot Rodger, a 22-year-old off-and-on Santa Barbara City College student from Woodland Hills — Nguyen has slept a handful of hours at his apartment, opting instead to visit friends outside the college community adjacent to UCSB’s campus.
The deli is also across the street from where he works on Pardall Road at the UCSB Associated Students’ field office. Nguyen was closing up alone at 9:30 p.m. Friday when he heard a rapid succession of what he soon learned were gunshots, not fireworks.
“It really could’ve been anyone,” said Nguyen, whose gaze fell as he recalled the horrific shrieking and screaming heard outside.
Nguyen was back at work Tuesday, still struggling to understand the needless violence, as hundreds of others paid homage to the six victims and fellow students by writing messages with chalk on a memorial wall just outside the AS office.
Isla Vista bustled with subdued activity, a stark contrast to UCSB, where classes were canceled for a day of mourning. Just a few students and faculty ventured to campus for grief counseling or office hours for professors, who were asked to be present for support.
Some students embraced after greeting, stopping to quietly chat, while others hurried through errands.
“I just don’t want to be on campus today,” said one student, who carried a pile of textbooks, planning to do schoolwork at home.
The day was admittedly the first venture outside since the shooting for some, who feared the national news crews who descended on the small seaside town.
Many planned to attend an afternoon memorial service at Harder Stadium, and one professor hosted a workshop to help students face what happened in order to heal.
San Nicolas Residence Hall organized a gathering to write thank-you notes to law enforcement agencies that responded to Friday’s mass shooting, and black ribbon pins were distributed in solidarity for those lost.
Just two weeks before final exams signaling the spring quarter’s end, first-year chemical engineering student Joseph Sanz sat with his laptop on a bench outside a residence hall, trying to find the focus to study.
The 19-year-old was back home in Los Angeles when his friends texted him about the shooting, making events seem even more surreal.
Nine shots were fired into his friend’s home in the 6500 block of Del Playa Drive, although no one was injured, and another friend knew one of the victims.
“It’s just really frightening,” Sanz told Noozhawk. “Everyone is really supportive, not just in the wake of these events.”
He said the shooting has launched a campus-wide debate about gun rights, as well as a discussion about mental health, since Rodger has been described as “severely mentally disturbed.”
Rodger, who carried out the awful series of events using semi-automatic guns and his black BMW 328i, was seeking revenge and retribution for what he perceived as an unending string of rejections and slights by women in Isla Vista, according to videos he posted online and a lengthy “manifesto” reviewed by Noozhawk.
Near one of those crime scenes in Isla Vista on Tuesday afternoon, students nearly ran out of space to write messages on the tall, black chalkboard memorial, donated by Home Depot.
Personal and general notes centered on love, declaring, “We are not defined by hate” or “Love will conquer all. Rest in Peace.”
“This is about honoring and focusing on the victims,” said Bailey Loverin, a UCSB student and Associated Students officer.
The memorial wall was built on wheels, and organizers will consider moving it to different locations throughout the campus community this week.
Perhaps the messages will help rebuild a sense of community and safety, something lost after so many endured such trauma — including Nguyen.
He called his mother in Sacramento to say he loved her while he ducked down after the shooting, and said he hopes to let those around him know more often that he cares.
“A part of me does feel unsafe, but I think that feeling is not as important,” Nguyen said. “We’re all in this together. It’s going to be a hard healing process.”