After the shootings, how Santa Barbara is trying to heal

The response to the killing rampage in Santa Barbara, Calif., has included not only a memorial service but also memorial walls, comfort dogs, and instant offices for counseling.

Chris Carlson/AP
A couple embrace before a memorial service for the victims and families of Friday's rampage at Harder Stadium on the campus of University of California, Santa Barbara on Tuesday, May 27, 2014 in the Isla Vista area near Goleta, Calif.

From one end of the University of California, Santa Barbara, to the other, it is clear this is a campus and community on the mend, after a deadly rampage that took six lives, along with the young killer, and injured 13.

Some 20,000 students, teachers, and family members gathered on Tuesday for a memorial service at Harder Stadium to mark "a day of mourning and reflection," amid all the sadly familiar conventions of grief support after mass killings.

"This has been very difficult and frankly, there are people from one end of the spectrum to the other in their ability to cope,” says senior David Ragan, standing outside the Student Resource Center with a handmade sign: “Free Hugs.”

“Some people are religious and some aren’t, and everyone is going inside themselves to replace the darkness with light in their own way,” he says, noting that individual responses to his full afternoon of hugs ranged from tears or no response to "I’m OK" or "I’m great."

Twenty yards away, a football field-sized green is sprinkled with temporary gazebos populated with volunteers from support groups such as the Hope network and Love on a Leash, providing “animal-assisted crisis response” and “pet provided therapy,” respectively. Larger dogs lie with paws outstretched, stroked by passersby – students, faculty, and residents of nearby Isla Vista, the sprawling community of apartments, small houses, restaurants, and sorority and fraternity houses that abuts the campus of 22,000 students.

“Both the dogs and their handlers are trained to provide support to anyone deeply affected by these crises and disasters,” says LaWana Heald, Hope's Southwest regional director, handing out a four-color card of Robby, a golden retriever and yellow Labrador mix, who had been screened and trained for his ability to make people smile.

Volunteers from UCSB’s Counseling & Psychological Services (CAPS) hand out blue paper sheets with 11 points of “Strategies for Managing Grief,” such as: “A rule of thumb is this: If you feel like crying, then cry. If not, then don’t. Sometimes something funny will happen, just like it used to. When that happens, go ahead and laugh. It’s OK.”

There are phone lines for counseling help and instant offices set up for students and faculty, from the campus tour center to the Student Resource Center to the administration building and beyond.

“I’m pretty impressed with how this campus has formally responded to this,” says Raul Jalisco, a third-year student. “Not everyone is admitting to using these services, but it is striking to me how many are.”

Three hundred yards down a bike path, two makeshift shrines are jammed with students. One, in front of the IV Deli, includes flowers, candles, and colored-chalk messages written on the pavement. Across the street, in front of the Associated Students Pardall Center, an active “wall of remembrance” is being covered with handwritten pieces of paper pinned to a cloth bulletin board, and there are multicolored chalk messages written on eight-foot high chalkboards. The notes include:

  • “You are braver than you believe. Stronger than you seem. Smarter than you think. – Winnie the Pooh."
  • “Darkness cannot drive out darkness. Only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate. Only love can do that. – MLK"
  • “Take what you need,” says one sheet of paper, with a list of qualities written down each side, half torn, to prompt passersby to finish the tear and pocket the virtue. “Love, Hope, Forgiveness, Faith, Patience, Healing, Love, Peace.”
  • “Where there is struggle there is strength, and where there is strength there is hope. M.G.”
  • “I.V. Strong."
  • “United as Gauchos,” a reference to the UCSB mascot.

People kneel, bow their heads, some mouthing words silently.

“I know it seems like a cliché and a worn-out truism that communities come together in tragedy, but I’ve never seen these students so united,” says Connie Kilgallen, a longtime resident of Isla Vista. “The candlelight vigil two nights ago was very powerful – 10,000 people walking with candles from one end of campus to the other.”

“It’s been really tough, but there are a lot of people who want to come together and make it a beautiful thing,” adds David Raban.

There is also a show of interfaith unity.

Rabbi Evan Goodman, executive director of Santa Barbara Hillel, opened the 4 p.m. memorial service on Tuesday, followed by the Rev. John Love, pastor at St. Mark's University Parish in Isla Vista. The emphasis was on celebrating the lives of those slain and not on the twisted motivations of alleged shooter, Elliot Rodger, whose manifesto has been a focus of news reports.

Meanwhile, mourners have generated their responses to the tragedy through social media campaigns with Twitter hashtags such as #YesAllWomen or #NotOneMore.

Richard Martinez, who lost his son Christopher Michaels-Martinez in the rampage, has publicly railed against politicians for not doing enough to curb gun violence since 20 children and six adults were gunned down at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Connecticut in December 2012.

"Today, I'm going to ask every person I can find to send a postcard to every politician they can think of with three words on it: 'Not one more,' " he told the crowd at Harder Stadium. He got the crowd to laugh at least twice, making fun of his own generation for coming up with the technique of “sending a postcard” rather than a tweet – and not being aware of what a great tool a hashtag has become in the age of social media.

Mr. Martinez, the only family member of a victim to speak, also read statements from the families of George Chen and David Wang, both of whom included words of forgiveness and love to all involved, “including the killer.” 

After a practice round of “not one more,” Martinez cued the attendees to stand and shout so loud that “it could be heard in Washington, D.C.” The crowd gave him a standing ovation and pounded feet spontaneously in solidarity.

“I appreciate that he said he doesn’t speak for all the families,” said a man in the crowd. “It shows that we can all grow into sensitivity and consider others carefully in the midst of what feels so personal a tragedy.”

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