Close to Home: Observations from a Former UCSB Mom

SB-landscape

I am a UCSB mom. Make that was. My son went to that school. After his freshman year, he lived in Isla Vista, on one of those streets where the rampage occurred. It was on the main drag, which is also known as the Number One party street in Isla Vista or IV, as the locals call it. Everyone knows about it, even kids who don’t go there.

UCSB is an attractive campus, considered among one of the better state schools. The campus overlooks the Pacific Ocean. During World War II a portion of the land was used as an airfield and training base for Marine Squadrons, that would then head off to combat in the Pacific Theater. Some of the military barracks are still around, now serving as dorms.

UCEN-Night

The above photo and this one offer views of the University of California, Santa Barbara (UCSB).

When my son first chose this school over the other ones he’d been admitted to, I didn’t know about UCSB’s reputation as a party school. The ceiling of his apartment, as most other apartments in that neighborhood, was a testament to the countless nights of partying. It was embedded with beer bottle caps, a sign of pride for all the drinking he and his roommates had accomplished over the course of the school year, often defying the legal drinking age.

IV is a typical college neighborhood. Could be any college town. It has a grungy feel but what do you expect? College kids don’t have time to keep their neighborhood clean, not when they spend nearly half their time in school or studying, and the rest of the time partying, with an emphasis on the latter. In fact, if anything, they’re good at trashing the neighborhood. I cannot tell you how many times I’d cringe walking into my son’s apartment, which he shared with three other guys. You can only imagine what I saw.

IV is not the kind of neighborhood you or I would live in. Run down yet super expensive. The landlords know they have their clientele–college students–between a rock and a hard place. It is the only town close-by, within walking/skateboard/biking distance to the university. So not only does no one have to maintain it for the students, who are transient tenants by nature, the students are charged exorbitant prices for the privilege of living there.

My son was one of those students whose main source of transportation around campus and IV was a skateboard. In fact, every student at UCSB seems to own either a skateboard, a bike, or both. The campus is filled with miles of paths designed for this very purpose, and you can see students zipping around all over campus. So it’s not surprising to see them in Isla Vista, or to know that the killer ran down a few while on his rampage.

WelcomeToIslaVista

We’d visit my son every year while he was at school, taking the three-hour plus drive from San Diego to just north of Santa Barbara, where the school was located. We’d always get stuck in traffic driving through Los Angeles, especially around LAX, but once we passed it and reached Santa Barbara, we’d see the most breathtaking views of the ocean, glistening like an expansive jewel beneath the sun.

For five years we ventured there, for that’s how long it took my son to graduate, thanks to all that partying and doing poorly in at least one class. During our visits, we’d walk around campus and Isla Vista, and have lunch at a nearby shopping center, where we could also catch a movie or peruse the neighborhood bookstore.

Here’s one thing we always felt each time we visited:

Safe.

A pristine, colorful community with palm trees, sea breezes and blue skies. You’ve got the ocean on one side and a view of the hills on the other. Serenity comes to mind.

Except this past Friday night, when it was anything but serene. As I watched the story unfold on the news, and learned about the victims, and as I saw the confusion and fright in the eyes of the UCSB students, I was overcome with tears.

 

UCSB is a bicycle-friendly campus and even won an award for it.

UCSB won an award for being a bicycle-friendly campus.

I know that place, I kept thinking. My son spent a part of his young life there. And then my mind goes to that dark place.

It could’ve been him there. On his skateboard, grabbing a bite to eat, out drinking with his buddies. It could’ve been him, a victim or a witness to something so senseless.

I watched Richard Martinez, the father of one of the victims, talk about his son. He pointed to the politicians who support the NRA as he shouted, “When will enough people say, ‘Stop the madness.’ We don’t have to live like this! Too many people have died!”

He spoke from his heart but his pain felt like he wanted to rip it out instead. He’s probably wondering how he’s going to be able to manage after losing his 20-year old son. I listened to Mr. Martinez speak and my first thought was, there’s going to be a terrible backlash from NRA and its supporters. They’ll deny guns had anything to do with this.

But then I realized, Mr. Martinez is right. When are we going to stop valuing guns over our children? What is it going to take? How many more are we willing to sacrifice?

My children at my son's graduation.

 At my son’s graduation.

Look in the mirror. It’s not just Mr. Martinez affected. It’s you, it’s me. It didn’t just hit close to home for me. It hit close to home for us all. Look in the mirror. We are all part of this.

These things don’t only happen to other people’s children. This time it happened in Isla Vista. But next time–next time, where will it be?

Who’s going to be next?

As long as laws don’t change, as long we continue keeping the same priorities, there’s always going to be a next time. Count on it.

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28 thoughts on “Close to Home: Observations from a Former UCSB Mom

  1. Gun crime and many other things will never be sorted whilst we have people in power who are paid or subsidised to be there by various groups and interests.

    You won’t have politicians vote against for example guns whilst they are supported financially by the pro-gun groups.

    Over here we have unions and other organisations donate to political parties so they can indirectly have a say and an effect on events so they go in their favour.

    We have just had European and Local Government Elections and in the UK it’s the first time in 100 years that a party other than Labour or Conservative have got the most votes in a national election, and this is also a party without a single MP in the British Parliament.

    Things can only change with the will of the people if those who serve actually serve all and not just those who paid money to put them where they are despite what they might say.

    Just as a final thought, I would like to bet that on the day of the shootings more people died in either the USA or the UK from being hit by a car than hit by a bullet, now there’s something to ponder.

    • Thank you, Robert. You raise good points. And while it’s true, your statistic about being hit by a car is far greater, the shootings generally translate into the loss of multiples lives at once. And it seems all the more heartbreaking because of it.

      • As you rightly say it’s the multiple lives lost all at once that shocks. But that’s no excuse something needs to be done about gun’s and not just your side of the pond. Handguns are banned full stop in the UK but that’s not cut gun crime at all. Somebody needs to be brave and do something, but I honestly think that’s not going to happen.

  2. Hello my dear friend, as I prepare to go away on a long trip with my family, I can’t help but watch helplessly as yet another shooting takes place and parents mourn their children ; I feel so much of their pain. There were three students from the Bay Area. As a former parent of UCSB, I feel your pain also. A parent at my daughters school has a child going there this fall. It is difficult to not think about what it is to send our children away.
    I wish the all powerful NRA would just say enough is enough for humanity’s sake. I wish they would stop thinking about what is good for them and start thinking about our future, our children, those in our society who should not have access to guns and find a way to work with the government to place a law preventing such senseless tragedies.

    Words fail me.. All I see are accidents and shootings on the news Monica. When does it end?

    • Oh MM, I’m going to miss your words of wisdom while you’re away. Will you be gone long? Every time another one of these incidents occurs, I think of you and when we started talking about how all these terrible things have been happening and so many lives lost this year. The missing plane, the overturned South Korean boat, the Fed Ex/bus crash…too many lives gone too soon. Now this. I’m afraid if gun laws couldn’t change after Sandy Hook, they never will. Stay in touch while you’re away. Email me!

  3. We are sending kids away to school now with a new message: “eat right, sleep well, study hard, and stay out of the line of fire”. Something is terribly, terribly wrong.

  4. ***When are we going to stop valuing guns over our children?***

    EVEN, after what happened at Sandy Hook, nothing STILL has changed.

    I’m appalled & disgusted.

    OMGOSH, that was your son’s school? How HORRIBLE.

    Superb Post. These kind of words hopefully can change the sad world we live in… xxxxxxxxxxxx

    • You have summed it up quite nicely, Kim. It’s what so many of us are feeling. Though I have to hand it to two of the parents of victims who I’ve heard may meet with the father of the killer. Takes a lot of strength to do that. I hope something good comes out of all this. But then again, that’s what I thought after Sandy Hook.

  5. I was wondering/hoping you’d write about this, Monica, but of course, I hadn’t realized your son actually went there. So glad he wasn’t in the path of this young man’s rampage!
    I’m going to take the devil’s advocate position here. I think it’s far too easy to blame the NRA and guns for all senseless violence in our country today. In actuality, the true blame lies in a most complicated tangle of issues — from privileged youth with nothing but time on their hands to pent-up anger to failure to value life in all its forms. When we stop seeing people as a means to an end, when we stop thinking that anybody’s life is expendable, then maybe we’ll realize that trying to get what we want at the expense of somebody else is wrong!
    From what I gather, this young man was hell-bent on destruction. Nothing was going to stop him from expressing his anger in the most despicable of ways. He had everything that money could buy, but rather than have a heart and use his gifts wisely, he chose to throw it all away. How sad.

    • Of course my son already graduated. He stayed in the neighborhood a little while longer but eventually left. But ironically he works on another university campus, and as someone else said, schools seem to be a magnet for such tragedies. I work on a university campus, too, and I remember, back in the 90s, a graduate student who didn’t like his grade on his thesis, returned one day to the campus and shot and killed three faculty, including his advisor. Regarding the Isla Vista killer, I heard it said he has a form of autism. Should we be looking at that? Didn’t they also say that the guy who killed all those elementary school children in Connecticut, had some form of autism? Though I’ve yet to hear about any direct link between murder and autism, I don’t think we can ignore that.

  6. I watched him, too.
    He’s just starting this journey and it’s horrible. My heart goes out to him. It could be anywhere, anytime. We just have to live each day with purpose. That’s all we have control over, ya know?

    • Jodi, I just heard on the news that Mr. Martinez is planning to meet with the father of the killer. They’re going to work together to make sure something like this doesn’t happen again. I’m impressed he can put whatever he’s feeling aside to do this. Wow.

  7. Thank you Monica. I think it’s important to hear from the “close to home” point of view, because you’re right. It’s close to home for all of us.

  8. I think it is too easy to think banning guns or kicking the NRA where it hurts would prevent the horror that happened at UCSB from happening again. Our society is violent. It also sees violence and drugs as an answer to what is wrong in our lives to solve what ails an individual in their everyday lives. The pressure of their school, their job, their spouse, their children all seem to build in these people and their answer is violence. Guns are easily obtained and so are drugs. Until we as a society can stop the idea of violence to others as well as to ourselves, no banning will prevent another occurrence. Ca., unfortunately has let violent offenders out of jail for overcrowding. Kids at USC are told not to leave campus because of the surrounding area. This violence now happened in an upscale area. We are experiencing terror right here on our own shores.

    • Well no ones going to ban guns, not in this society and I don’t think anyone’s talking about doing that. But there are steps, logical ones that could be taken, that could help some. But the NRA is a powerful force, even more potent than our government, so no worries. This won’t change a thing. And the violence will continue because, while our society does encourage violence as you say, it’s also in our nature, as humans, to be violent. The good part of our society is that most of us have learned to live as part of society and have curbed our violent streaks. These crimes are done by a small percentage of us. Most people have goodness in their hearts.

  9. It’s not going to stop until people stop being polite and start expressing their rage at those who value gun rights over human lives. I find it ironic that most of these same gun advocates are also in the right-to-life crowd. Sick, sick, sick.

    • Yes, it’s so ironic. But somehow, the gun owners don’t see the irony. And really, guns is only part of the problem. We need more ways to identify those with mental illness that seem to be living on the fringe, and support services to help them. In the days to come we will learn more about this case and I’m eager to see how it unfolds, and what can we do for next time.

  10. Thank you, Monica, for writing such a beautiful and heartfelt post. It disturbs me how pervasive the attitudes regarding guns (and women, as we’ve come to find) are in our society…it means we’re gonna have to do a lot of soul searching as a nation and start reframing a lot of our ideas about life before anything changes. But it’s important, and I think someday we’ll get there. xo

    • Thank you, Caps. Though I agree with what you’re saying, there are many in power who are not willing to do any soul-searching in order to come to any consensus. For them, we’ve yet to reach a threshold on mass murders. You can make a list of all who’ve died at the hands of such a killer, but it’s not enough. Not sure what it will take. Perhaps someone who goes into the halls of Congress to commit a mass shooting? It’s so scary to think about. The way this killer hated women is frightening too.

      • Excellently put. It’s gotten to the point where I, a very hopeful person, am starting to lose faith in our politicians because I don’t know what will make this all stop.

      • Caps, I’m going to miss you while you’re away. Feel free to email me directly and let you know your thoughts on what you’re experiencing. Safe travels, my very good friend!

  11. This entire weekend has had me curled into a ball and weeping. Each and every time something like this happens I have the same reaction, a piece of me is torn and I can’t stop crying for days. Mr. Martinez and his family will feel this loss forever, they will never recover, they will go on, they will mourn and they will find ways to go forward but they will never recover. Neither will we, the rest of this nation who feel any compassion or empathy for their loss, or the losses of the all the other families who have lost children, fathers, mothers to this senseless violence.

    Something has to change. We must stand up to this absolute ignorance. We must stop allowing the NRA and others like them to own the message.

    Beautifully written Monica. Thank you.

    • Thank you, Val. We will never find solutions to this problem, mainly because our government will never reach consensus. The lobbyists don’t help either. It’s so frustrating.

  12. I just watched the father, Martinez, on a morning news show. Painful to watch. I don’t understand why the NRA has this much power that laws are benefiting their interests. What happened in Isla Vista is hitting all over the country and seems mostly in schools and colleges. Just a few weeks ago, there was a rampage here, at FedEx. Every day, a shooting is being reported. As it stands, anywhere can be a random war zone for somebody who’s called it quits and is angry with the world.

    • Totsy, I agree. Such mass slaughters seem to happen just about anywhere. Many times, the signs are there but each observer seems to only see a small piece of the clue. No one seems to see it all, enough to be able to prevent it. When watching the coverage of this kid, I’ve noticed that. The people who lived near him saw one aspect, the parents and therapists another. And what the police saw when they made the house call in April was minuscule. Still, if they all had had a chance to confer, who knows what could’ve happened or what might be different today. It’s just to painful to take in.

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