Tuesday, February 20 , 2018, 12:27 pm | Fair 55º

 
 
 
 

Local News

Isla Vista Lights Up As Community Remembers 6 UCSB Students Killed in 2014 Massacre

Hundreds join procession from Storke Plaza into the heart of I.V. for one-year anniversary vigil at People’s Park

In honor of the six victims of last year’s Isla Vista massacre, hundreds of people hold aloft little blue LED lights at Saturday’s candlelight vigil at People’s Park in Isla Vista. Click to view larger
In honor of the six victims of last year’s Isla Vista massacre, hundreds of people hold aloft little blue LED lights at Saturday’s candlelight vigil at People’s Park in Isla Vista. (Gina Potthoff / Noozhawk photo)

[Click here for a related Noozhawk photo gallery.]

Enveloped in warm blue LED light, walking arm-in-arm or standing apart, a procession of hundreds quietly moved through Isla Vista on Saturday night to remember those who no longer walk beside them.

The crowd passed the IV Deli and the 7-Eleven, making their way around the community, where a candlelight vigil at People’s Park would mark one year since a deranged man’s murderous rampage on May 23, 2014, left six UC Santa Barbara students dead and dozens more injured.

With tiny lights in the palms of their hands — and blue woven bracelets on their wrists — the continuous glow seemed to make mourners stronger, creating a light bigger than any individual and one that would lead them out of the darkness of their grief.

The vigil traveled from UCSB’s Storke Plaza to the park, where attendees sat on chairs, on the grass or on some of the six newly dedicated benches in the memorial garden.

The names of the victims were spoken aloud, each given life through the words of family, friends and UCSB administrators:

George Chen, Katie Cooper, Chen Yuan “James” Hong, Christopher Ross Michael-Martinez, Weihan “David” Wang and Veronika Weiss.

Everyone was invited to speak in the open-mic format, beginning with the families who lost the most.

Parents of the slain young men and women thanked supporters for continuing to honor their loved ones, and wished them a lifetime of happiness — something their children were robbed of.

“I love you, regardless of who you are,” said Chen’s mother, Kelly Wang.

She brought the crowd to tears with her emotional plea to end senseless killing of the innocent, acknowledging the “light of love” they all held in their hands.

Attendees respectfully raised their blue lights skyward in somber salute.

UCSB professor Kum-Kum Bhavnani read a letter from Hong’s family, who described their son as a kindhearted person with a big smile.

Hong was the type of young man who saved seats on the bus for strangers who needed them, who became a vegetarian at a young age because “animals have feelings, too.”

The letter urged others to quell the violence in video games, television and media that make aggression seem commonplace.

Richard Martinez read a short poem his son, Christopher, wrote years before he was fatally shot. In it, he left a message of living on even after loved ones are gone.

“For their sake, we must also live,” Martinez said.

Michael-Martinez’s uncle said he had been dreading the anniversary but was heartened by the sight of so many.

Attendees made no mention of the 22-year-old murderer, Elliot Rodger, who died from a self-inflicted gunshot wound as authorities closed in on him on Del Playa Drive. According to authorities and to videos he posted online, the Santa Barbara City College dropout from Woodland Hills was seeking revenge and retribution for what he perceived as an unending string of rejection from women.

Authorities say Rodger brutally stabbed to death his roommates, Hong and Wang, and then Chen, who had gone to their Seville Road apartment to check on his friends. Rodger then raced his BMW around Isla Vista, shooting to death Cooper, Weiss and Michael-Martinez.

Many of those in attendance Saturday night spoke of getting more help for those who seek — and so desperately need — it.

On the anniversary of one of the most difficult moments in UCSB history, Chancellor Henry Yang said the vigil showed that tragedy unites, not divides.

He said a scholarship has been created in each of the six students’ names and will be presented to students who share similar passions and interests.

“Their memories are shining down on us like the soft glow of these blue lights,” Yang said.

A student wearing a sorority sweatshirt led a couple of verses of “This Little Light of Mine,” with the crowd readily joining in.

Another student read a poem. One of Weiss’ water polo teammates asked that everyone live life to the fullest — as she had — and a third lamented that more people weren’t in attendance.

A friend of Cooper’s encouraged mourners to open up to other people as he had with her. Although he lost a friend, he said, he’s gained so many since because of the love she inspired in others.

“If I’m remembered like this when I’m gone, then that’s all I could hope for,” he said.

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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