Thousands of UCSB students and community members filled Storke Plaza on Saturday night, hugging each other and sobbing as singers from the university’s a-cappella squad filled the silence with notes from “Amazing Grace.” The vigil, which started on the UCSB campus and then moved into Anisq’Oyo Park, occurred less than 24 hours since 22-year-old Isla Vista resident Elliot Rodger shot and killed three UCSB students after allegedly stabbing three other victims to death. But what resounded Saturday evening in the wake of such sadness was the call for solidarity and love.
Their faces aglow by the candles they held — some provided on-site, some in Starbucks and Solo cups — the students were joined in their vigil by many of the area’s elected representatives as well as school counselors, who will be available all day Sunday at the Student Resource Building. After the crowd made its way from Storke Plaza to Isla Vista — some with their dogs, some standing on the sidewalk watching, all quiet except for the whir of broadcast vans parked along the curbs — they sat down on the grass and took turns speaking.
Chancellor Henry Yang went first. “Words do not exist for me just how saddened we are for what happened last night in Isla Vista,” he said, adding that the community is in “mourning” for the “loss of such precious life so early.” Yang thanked the students, doctors, counselors, and countless others for their “compassion and courage” in the face of what happened, and noted the support from the other University of California campuses, some of which sent down their counselors to console the UCSB students. “We know that there are many more difficult days and weeks ahead of us,” Yang said, but that now is the time to “draw strength from each other.”
The dozens of students who addressed the crowd spoke of missing those who were lost, even if they never knew them, and of the support that Isla Vista can provide. “This isn’t supposed to happen here,” one man said. “We cannot stop believing in the good.” One woman, crying as she talked, said, “Isla Vista, I know that you are loving. I ask that you just keep that up.” Another student, hinting at the gang rapes and Deltopia riot that rocked Isla Vista in recent months, said that the residents shouldn’t let this tragedy, on top of those events, separate them. “I look at us here,” he said. “This is what a community looks like. And this is what a strong community looks like. We can overcome this loss, but we can only overcome it together.”
Some who spoke shared stories about the shooting victims. One woman talked about 22-year-old Katie Cooper, the friend she made in their ballroom dance class this quarter. “I won’t forget you, Katie,” she said. “Please continue to dance.”
Another student shared a fond memory of Chris Michaels-Martinez, his roommate last year. He was studying for Chemistry 1B, the student said, when Chris pulled out a six-pound bag of chips and a giant tub of hummus. Chris said the two of them should eat all of it and binge-watch their favorite television show, the student remembered. “I’d never been so happy in my life. Whoever’s taking Chem 1B understands,” he said, to knowing laughs from the crowd. “That’s what I think of when I think of him. Not that he’s gone, but that he was here.”