Tuesday, May 31 , 2016, 11:37 am | Overcast 61º

In a Flash of Gunfire, UCSB Student Chris Michaels-Martinez’s Dream Destroyed

Heartbroken family, friends in Los Osos recall young man as a ‘quality kid’ with a perpetual ‘smile on his face’ and a bright future

By Janet Lavelle, San Luis Obispo Tribune |

When Christopher Michaels-Martinez came home to Los Osos from UC Santa Barbara during spring break, he was excited about his plans to study in London next year, friends said.

Christopher Michaels-Martinez

“We played pick-up basketball together and then just sat and talked for a couple of hours,” said Chandler Torres, who met Michaels-Martinez when they were in preschool together in the small San Luis Obispo County community.

“He was looking forward to studying abroad for his junior year. He wanted to get out there and have new experiences.”

That dream was destroyed Friday night, when Michaels-Martinez, 20, became the sixth victim in an Isla Vista killing spree that left seven people dead, including the suspected killer, Elliot Rodger.

Michaels-Martinez was inside the Isla Vista Deli Mart when Rodger allegedly walked in and shot him after killing five others at his apartment and outside a sorority house, authorities said.

His grief-stricken father, Richard Martinez, spoke in front of news cameras Saturday afternoon outside the Santa Barbara County sheriff’s station, describing the family’s devastation over the loss of “a really great kid.”

He said his son was an English major at UCSB who had planned to study in London next year and go to law school after graduation.

Martinez pulled out a photo showing his son as a youngster wearing a Chicago Cubs baseball uniform and recalled that the family used to call Chris “mini-Sammy Sosa,” for the former Cubs star.

In San Luis Obispo on Saturday, those who knew Michaels-Martinez were in shock and many struggled to talk through tears as they recalled a young man who was invariably smiling, even-keeled and focused.

“He was a bright, young happy kid — a lovely young man who always had a smile on his face,” said Leslie O’Connor, principal of San Luis Obispo High School, where Michaels-Martinez graduated in 2012. “When you look at his picture in the yearbook and look at those eyes — he was an engaging, happy guy who had a bright future. It’s tragic what happened.’’

Scott Nairne, a teacher at San Luis Obispo High, called Michaels-Martinez a “really calm, intelligent kid” in his newspaper class, “a good writer.”

Torres said Michaels-Martinez was an only child who was close to his parents, alternating living with his mother, Caryn Michaels, in Los Osos, and father in Oceano.

The friends attended Laguna Middle School before San Luis Obispo High, where he was known as Chris Martinez. In high school, the friends played on the freshman and junior varsity basketball teams together, Torres said.

By junior year, Michaels-Martinez decided he wanted to focus on his advanced placement classes, Torres said.

“He took Latin and really enjoyed it,” he said.

Dan Monroe was Michaels-Martinez’s JV basketball coach.

“He was a coach’s dream,” Monroe said. “He was a team player, he had a great attitude and he was a hard worker who would stay after practice and work on his shots.”

Michaels-Martinez was “really a good quality kid” with a steady temperament that served him well on and off the court, Monroe said.

“He’s one of those kids you remember,” he said. “It’s such a senseless tragedy that didn’t have to happen.”

Greg Liebscher, who grew up with Michaels-Martinez in Los Osos, said “he was like a brother to me.” They used to play basketball together, he recalled Saturday evening. Michaels-Martinez “was kind to everybody, and everybody liked him.”

Liebscher’s mother, Tina, called Michaels-Martinez a “great young man, very kind, very smart and very funny. He never came to my house empty-handed. He would always bring a Madonna Inn cake or doughnuts.’’

And when they all played Dance Fever on Xbox at her home, he’d always win, she added.

Her son, a student at Cuesta College, stayed in close contact with Michaels-Martinez.

When they heard about the shooting Saturday morning, she recalled asking her son if he had texted his friend to make sure he was all right.

“I texted him,’’ her son replied, “but he must have slept in.’’

» Click here to read more stories from the San Luis Obispo Tribune.

— Janet Lavelle is a reporter for the San Luis Obispo Tribune. Contact her at [email protected].

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