(SANTA BARBARA, Calif.) — As authorities continue to investigate Friday’s rampage near the University of California, Santa Barbara campus, profiles of the victims have emerged, giving the tragedy a deepened sense of identity and loss.
The killing spree –- which left seven people dead, including the suspected gunman, and 13 injured –- began in the apartment that Elliot Rodger rented, inside a two-story courtyard building fronted by palm trees.
James Cheng-yuan Hong, 20, George Chen, 19, and Weihan Wang, 20, were found stabbed to death inside, authorities said. All were from the San Francisco Bay Area and were students at the university. Hong and Chen were listed on the apartment lease. Wang was visiting his friends.
Lara Lewis lived in the same housing area as Hong during his freshman year.
“Instant tears upon hearing about the loss of James Cheng-yuan Hong,” she wrote online. “Please pray for his family.”
Following the stabbings, police said Rodger drove five blocks to the Alpha Phi sorority house. He was seeking “retribution” for what he experienced as a lifetime of social and sexual isolation.
He pounded on the sorority house’s front door.
No one answered.
So Rodger walked around the corner, authorities said, and opened fire on a group of students that included Veronika Weiss and Katherine Cooper, two UCSB students. Cooper’s friend Phoenix Morales said Cooper was “the brightest girl in the room.” Morales added that Cooper “was very bubbly and she had that smile, she just made you smile.”
Weiss, 19, was a first-year student from Westlake Village, California, who had played water polo in high school.
“She was on the fast track to graduate in three years and she couldn’t wait to move to New York and find her way in the financial industry,” said Bob Weiss, Veronika’s father.
Two blocks and three minutes later, Rodger was at a local deli. There, he got out of his car, went inside and shot and killed Christopher Ross Michaels-Martinez, 20. Friends described him as the kind of person who would welcome strangers into his home. He planned to study abroad and then go to law school.
Following the tragedy, Richard Martinez discussed his son’s impact.
“Our son was the most important thing in the world to all of us,” he said through tears. “He was our only child and he was so much a part of our lives. It’s hard to imagine how things are going to be like now that he’s gone.
Martinez said he was proud of his son. Christopher was smart and active, with plans to study abroad and then go to law school. He had plans for Saturday –- a breakfast to meet his girlfriend’s parents for the first time.
While Richard Martinez is devastated, he hopes something positive will emerge from the tragedy.
“Nobody needs to own three semi-automatic handguns,” he said of Rodger. “It doesn’t make sense.”
Gun violence is a complicated problem requiring input from lots of perspectives, including mental health experts, Martinez said.
“What we’re trying to do is try to understand why Chris died and try to make it mean something because … otherwise it just seems so hard,” he said.
“If we have to live with this, we want to do what we can, so nobody else has to go through this,” Martinez said.
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