The California State University, Long Beach campus was on Sunday still trying to come to grips with the death of design student Nohemi Gonzalez, who was one of at least 129 killed in terrorist attacks carried out across Paris on Friday.
Thousands packed a campus vigil Sunday evening that spilled out from the University Student Union into the Friendship Walk. Gonzalez, a senior industrial design major, was attending Strate School of Design during a semester abroad program. She was 23 years old and the first American victim identified.
Students in the tight-knit community of designers were still trying to process the tragedy.
“We are a graduating class of 70 and we are still trying to process what happened,” Tanya Flores, a senior industrial design major said during the vigil that CSULB hosted Sunday. “It was the weirdest feeling to recognize a name in the news.”
According to university officials, Gonzalez was with two other CSULB students in one of the two restaurants that the terrorists targeted. She was dining at La Belle Equipe, according to the Los Angeles Times. At 9:36 p.m. local time, terrorists opened gunfire on the restaurant, killing 19 people and critically wounding another nine.
“To the best of our understanding, they [the students] were out at the time of the attack,” Terri Carbaugh, CSULB associate vice president for legislative & external relations, said Saturday at the CSULB press conference “One of her friends did see that she was shot by the terrorists but [the friend] was able to flee.”
The friend reportedly saw Nohemi taken out on a stretcher, but was unable to determine her condition, Carbaugh said.
The attack on the La Belle Equipe was one of six separate attacks throughout Paris. The attacks included shootings at four restaurants; bombings outside the Stade de France, where France was playing against the German soccer team; and a mass shooting at the Bataclan, a concert hall where three men killed over 100 people at a sold-out Eagles of Death Metal performance.
Nohemi’s stepfather Jose Hernandez said in an interview with KTLA5 that he and Nohemi’s mother Beatrez Gonzalez learned of Nohemi’s death from her boyfriend, Tim Mraz.
“We were told that she didn’t make it,” Hernandez told the station. “We don’t know if she died instantly, or if she suffered, or how did it happen. We don’t really know.”
Mraz referred to her on Instagram Saturday as his best friend and the most important person in his life. He spoke about her commitment to helping others; Gonzalez was a teaching assistant for the department of design.
“She was selfless and eager to show others work,” Mraz said. “She was teaching others what I taught her in the shop. I was her T.A. Two years older than her and after me she became the T.A. And she ran the shop. If someone was holding a tool wrong she would be like ‘Hey, what the hell are you doing?’”[sidebar title=”Storify:” align=”right” background=”on” border=”all” shadow=”on”]
“Nohemi was super caring and loved by many,” Monique Weinapple, a senior industrial design major, said.
“She had a very buoyant, joyous personality. She was extremely lively, extremely energetic, no shortage of anything you couldn’t ask her to do, and she would be there for her students, for her classmates,” said Michael LaForte, a lecturer for the department of design, during a news conference.
“We have been in close contact throughout the night with students and families and have confirmed that 16 other Long Beach State students studying in Paris are safe,” CSULB President Jane Close Conoley said.
CSULB reached out to each student individually via social media, phone calls and texts to confirm their safety, said Michael Uhlenkamp, the CSULB executive director of news.
In addition to Gonzalez, three other students were studying with her at the Strate College of Design.
CSULB also has roughly 80 students from France that are currently studying at CSULB. Conoley said that the university has also reached out to them.
Uhlenkamp said that students in need of counseling should contact the Office of the Dean of Students.
Miranda Andrade-Ceja and Amy Patton also contributed to this article.