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Saturday, February 23 , 2019, 4:07 am | Fair 39º


‘We Remember Them’ Exhibit Helps Isla Vista Grieve for Victims of 2014 Massacre

UC Santa Barbara Library collected memorial items, family input for extensive campus exhibit on display through Saturday

Scores of volunteers made the UC Santa Barbara “We Remember Them” exhibit possible, including Spencer Mermelstein, left, Maggie Cazares, Melissa Barthelemy and Diane Larson. UCSB alumni Megan Quan and Jon Choi, along with Thunder the corgi, are helping spread the word about the exhibit, which is open through June 20. Click to view larger
Scores of volunteers made the UC Santa Barbara “We Remember Them” exhibit possible, including Spencer Mermelstein, left, Maggie Cazares, Melissa Barthelemy and Diane Larson. UCSB alumni Megan Quan and Jon Choi, along with Thunder the corgi, are helping spread the word about the exhibit, which is open through June 20.                    (Gina Potthoff / Noozhawk photo)

[Click here for a related Noozhawk photo gallery.]

“We remember them” is painted in script writing on the wall as you walk into the Red Barn, or old gym, in the heart of the UC Santa Barbara campus — first in English and then Chinese and Spanish.

The phrase tells a story of collective loss, all the while focusing on the acts of love and compassion that came out of the Isla Vista massacre of May 23, 2014, when six UCSB students lost their lives far too soon.

Everyone grieves differently, which is exactly why a team of UCSB faculty, students and staff sifted through thousands of keepsakes from memorial sites — items kept in mint condition at the campus library. The team reached out to the victims’ families for help creating the month-long, on-campus exhibit, which opened in time for the one-year anniversary.

So far, more than 700 visitors have paid homage at the eight-room display, which is using the Red Barn space (building 479, by the bus loop) free of charge until the exhibit ends Saturday.

Twenty-five campus departments are co-sponsoring the exhibit, along with 18 community partners.

“For me, the most meaningful thing was for the parents and friends,” said Melissa Barthelemy, a Ph.D. student in the History Department.

She, along with a team of seven library program interns, put the exhibit together, raising nearly $50,000 in monetary and in-kind donations to make it happen. Some received course credit; others were alumni volunteers.

An introductory room provides visitors with tragic details of how the violence unfolded, making small mention of 22-year-old Elliot Rodger, a mentally troubled Isla Vista resident who went on the stabbing and shooting rampage before taking his own life.

In the next room — dubbed  “We remember them” — is where most people spend their time.

Biographies of each of the six victims line the walls, along with a photo picked out by their families, a fitting quote, loving messages collected from memorials, floral arrangements, and a sports item decorated with signatures from friends.

On her first walk through the exhibit last week, UCSB alum Megan Quan learned about the other victims. As a 2013 graduate, she had known Katie Cooper and Veronika Weiss as fellow Tri Delta sorority sisters.

A smiling portrait of Christopher Ross Michael-Martinez comes first, then Weihan “David” Wang, Chen Yuan “James” Hong, George Chen, Weiss and Cooper as visitors move around the room.

Quan relived her grief but steadied herself against her boyfriend, Jon Choi, another UCSB alum, and was comforted by her 11-month-old corgi, Thunder.

“It really impacted all of the community,” she told Noozhawk, glad the families were able to share their input on the displays. “It really helped everyone heal a lot more. We don’t want to stop the dialogue.”

Cooper’s signature-covered sports item stands out: a pair of tan Mary Jane heels.

She taught ballroom dancing classes, part of her “vivacious” nature, according to Kayli Cover, a UCSB sophomore who knew Cooper through the Greek community. Cover volunteered drawing the floral logo for the memorial exhibit, along with other artwork.

“It’s been so nice to feel like a part of the community,” she said.

Visitors next walk through a room with items from spontaneous memorials, then past media coverage of remembrance events and into a space devoted to national politics and the gun safety movement.

The sixth room has photographs from the memorial garden planting at People’s Park in Isla Vista, paddle outs and more. A seventh room, called gratitude, provides pen and paper to write thank yous or to comment on what guests love about the exhibit, Isla Vista or those killed.

A final room devoted to reflection is everyone’s favorite.

It’s where families of the victims all stood and held hands in a circle, praying for each other and blessing the community the day after last month’s candlelight vigil. Interns designed the room with donated items and thrift store bargains, giving it a beach, garden and vintage theme, depending on which corner one chooses to sit in.

“I am simply in awe of what you and your team have done,” a mother of a victim said in a letter to Barthelemy. “I felt how many people were affected and how many people need to be healed; made me feel less alone in this.”

The families of the three closed friends killed — Chen, Hong and Wang — were similarly grateful.

“We were impressed by the thoughtful details, the beautiful artwork and the large amount of collection in the exhibition, memorial garden and elsewhere,” they said in a letter.

“We hope it will help the families and community heal together and unite in love and faith. We will love our sons forever and ever. With the same regard, we love the students in UCSB and beyond.”

For those who need longer than a month to remember and heal, Barthelemy said most of the collection’s contents will go on the UCSB library website soon after the exhibit concludes June 20.

Click here for more information about exhibit hours and for directions.

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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