With blue LED tea lights raised in the air, hundreds of UCSB students and community members walked in silence from Storke Plaza to Isla Vista Saturday in honor of the victims lost in last year’s killings.
After a dance piece and performance of “Amazing Grace” by the university’s a cappella group, six chimes rang from Storke Tower for George Chen, Katie Cooper, Cheng Yuan “James” Hong, Christopher Ross Michaels-Martinez, Weihan “David” Wang, and Veronika Weiss.
The vigil made its way down Pardall Road and around downtown Isla Vista’s loop to gather in People’s Park as the crowd walked past hundreds of paper bags glowing blue with LED lights. Most sat on grass, some on the six benches dedicated to the victims, while family members and attendees took turns speaking.
UCSB Chancellor Henry Yang, wearing a yellow T-shirt with the words “One Love,” spoke first. He stated the importance of upholding the memory of the six slain and announced the establishment of memorial scholarships, each individualized according to their character and interests.
“We reflect on their kindness, their laughter, their intelligence, and their ambition,” Yang said. “We can make their lives more meaningful by the way we choose to live our own, and we can make the lives of others more meaningful in the way we chose to honor them.”
UCSB Professor Kum-Kum Bhavnani followed Yang by reading a letter from the Hong family, which recalled James Hong as a person who stayed true to his beliefs and tutored in school programs even after volunteer hours no longer counted.
The letter expressed hope that the lives lost can bring more awareness to campus safety and criticized violence in video games and in the media for desensitizing younger children.
“Parenting and mental well-being should be focused more in family, school, and society,” Bhavnani read from the letter. “We should put more emphasis on moral values and teach kids to see the good in others and respect others.”
George Chen and David Wang’s mothers shared the stage, with Chen’s mother delivering an emotional message — in the midst of tears — to students.
“I wish you all to have a beautiful life,” she said. “I wish you all to have a beautiful family of your own, which we wished for our children. We wish you all to live life full.”
She voiced a desire for the killings to be a wakeup call to prevent future violence and took a moment to tell the crowd to “shine the light of love,” prompting attendees to illuminate the night with their blue lights one more time.
Richard Martinez, father of Christopher Michaels-Martinez, emphasized living life while still honoring the victims before reading a poem written by his son when he was 13 years old. Michaels-Martinez’s uncle, Alan Martinez, admitted he still has difficulty coping with the situation.
“I find that every time I forget about it, whether if it’s for a few minutes or a few hours, remembering it again is almost like going through it again,” he said.
Dozens of students who addressed the crowd explained the impact the events of that day had left on them and recalled memories of those lost. A friend of Cooper’s encouraged people to seek help by opening up to others, as how Cooper had helped him. Stephanie Barley, a former water polo teammate of Weiss’s, shared a message with the people.
“I ask that everyone live like Veronika Weiss did, living every moment to the fullest, living every second with the friends closest to you, being spontaneous and laughing obnoxiously,” Barley said.
UCSB Professor Phillip Conrad, who had taught Chen, Hong, Wang, and Weiss, spoke fondly of each of them as students. “Veronika was in a class of 180 students, and yet I knew her name and I knew her,” Conrad said of Weiss. “She made herself known.”
He remembered Chen, Hong, and Wang as students who sat in the front row of his class eager to learn. “People only said good things of George, David, and James when they were with us, because that’s all there was to say,” he added.
Another student shared an anecdote of Chris Michaels-Martinez, one of his friends. He was walking down the hall in the dorms before a night out when he saw Chris.
“I said, ‘Who’s wearing the Princess Leia costume? Oh, it’s Chris. I just checked out Chris.’ I didn’t expect that,” he said to laughter from the crowd. “That was his personality. You’re always happy to see him; he was always happy to see you.”