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Faced with Tragedy, Good Samaritans Stepped Up to Help During Isla Vista Rampage

A year after the deadly tragedy, the heroic bystanders, the first responders and the families of the victims reflect on the selfless acts amid the horror

A large memorial was created outside an Isla Vista sorority house where two women were fatally shot and another was seriously wounded on May 23, 2014. Several people were hailed as heroes for their roles in the aftermath of the tragedy.
A large memorial was created outside an Isla Vista sorority house where two women were fatally shot and another was seriously wounded on May 23, 2014. Several people were hailed as heroes for their roles in the aftermath of the tragedy. (Gina Potthoff / Noozhawk photo)

The evening of May 23, 2014, began as typical Friday nights often do, with a liquor store run for a college student in Isla Vista.

UC Santa Barbara student Max Potter jumped on his bike and headed out to pick up a six-pack to help celebrate the birthday of a roommate in his Beta chapter house, pedaling just four blocks before the evening took a sharp turn from typical.

After hearing what sounded like pops from fireworks in the unincorporated community adjacent to UCSB, Potter saw three girls with gunshot wounds lying on the ground in front of the Alpha Phi sorority house just before 9:30 p.m.

Two of them were moving.

Adrenaline kicked in. Potter bound off his bike to perform CPR on Katie Cooper, channeling training acquired for his student supervisor job at the Recreation Center.

The scene scared away some students, who ran into homes, but another passing student stabilized Cooper’s head. A second tended to Veronika Weiss, and a third tried to soothe Bianca DeKock, who was talking to her mother on her cell phone.

A Santa Barbara County sheriff’s deputy arrived on the scene, obtaining a description of the shooter’s vehicle from another student.

“I was only doing CPR for less than a minute before the second round of gunshots went out,” Potter told Noozhawk this week. “They were very loud.”

He didn’t realize the magnitude of what happened until he was safely huddled inside the Alpha Phi house, when a deputy came to the door and asked for two bed sheets to cover the bodies of Cooper and Weiss.

Potter, now 22, reluctantly shared the story of the night 22-year-old Elliot Rodger killed six UCSB students and injured 14 others before ending his own life with a gun used during the Isla Vista rampage.

What he did wasn’t special, Potter said, preferring to remember victims who, unfortunately, had been out during those 10 terror-filled minutes nearly a year ago.

His hesitance to bring attention to himself is characteristic of dozens of other civilians, who unexpectedly responded to that night with the helping, humble hands of Good Samaritans.

A report released by the Sheriff’s Department earlier this year details some of these acts, as well as heroics of responding deputies, outside officers and paramedics.

When a third victim, Christopher Michaels-Martinez, was shot as he entered the IV Deli, at least four people tried to revive him with CPR.

A pedestrian struck by Rodger’s vehicle near Embarcadero Del Norte was helped into Woodstock’s Pizza by two UCSB students.

A girl who was shot while riding her bike to a friend’s house was corralled into 7-Eleven, where workers hid student customers.

Having been shot at, students rushed into the nearest homes on Del Playa and Sabado Tarde, where young residents applied pressure to wounds and called police.

Friends tended to injured friends who were struck from behind while riding a bicycle or skateboard.

One skateboarder even followed Rodger’s BMW for a few blocks after he was hit before stopping when he came upon more run-down victims.

“At that time, keeping log, we had 12 different crime scenes,” said sheriff’s Lt. Butch Arnoldi, who manned the department’s phones and fielded dozens of 9-1-1 calls during the incident.

Michael-Martinez’s father called in trying to locate his son. Sorority sisters reported Cooper and Weiss missing.

Officers were just doing their jobs, Arnoldi said, playing down any heroics.

Everything was silent by the time Bob Weiss and his wife arrived, having sped up from Thousand Oaks to check on their daughter, Veronika, who wasn’t answering her phone. Six hours after the shooting began, they found out she was among the dead.

That night, deputies discovered the first victims were Rodger’s roommates and their friend — Weihan “David” Wang, Chen Hong and George Chen — who had multiple stab wounds.

Weiss couldn’t speak to first-responder efforts; he knew only the outpouring of support that followed.

“I know that the community responded in a big way post-May 23,” he said.

Community effort was how Potter also described the healing process, with candlelight vigils, hugs, flowers, written notes and donations.

“Everyone was impacted,” he said. “I think that really showed just how special those people were.”

As the senior environmental science and anthropology major prepares to graduate this year, he periodically pulls out a piece of that night he keeps in his wallet — a small section of yellow police tape.

“I think of them and I think about what it means to me; what I wish I would’ve done differently,” Potter said. “There’s a lot more to life than just school, drinking and money. You realize how many people you can impact when you’re no longer here. It’s a life-changing experience that I will take with me for the rest of my life.”

Noozhawk staff writer Gina Potthoff can be reached at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address). Follow Noozhawk on Twitter: @noozhawk, @NoozhawkNews and @NoozhawkBiz. Connect with Noozhawk on Facebook.

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