SLO High grad among shooting victims in Isla Vista; father tearfully calls for end to gun violence

jlavelle@thetribunenews.comMay 24, 2014 

When Christopher Michaels-Martinez came home to Los Osos from UC Santa Barbara during spring break, he was excited about his plans to study in London next year, friends said.

“We played pick-up basketball together and then just sat and talked for a couple of hours,” said Chandler Torres, who met Michaels-Martinez when they were in preschool together.

“He was looking forward to studying abroad for his junior year. He wanted to get out there and have new experiences.”

That dream was destroyed Friday night, when Michaels-Martinez, 20, became the sixth victim in a shooting rampage in Isla Vista that left seven people dead, including suspected shooter Elliot Rodger.

Michaels-Martinez was inside the IV Deli Mart when Rodger allegedly walked in and shot him after killing five others at his apartment and outside a sorority house, authorities said.

His grief-stricken father, Richard Martinez, spoke in front of news cameras Saturday afternoon outside a Santa Barbara sheriff’s station, describing the family’s devastation over the loss of “a really great kid.”

He said his son was an English major at UC Santa Barbara who had planned to study in London next year and go to law school after graduation. Martinez pulled out a photo showing his son as a youngster wearing a Chicago Cubs baseball uniform and recalled that the family used to call Chris “mini-Sammy Sosa,” for the former Cubs star.

In San Luis Obispo on Saturday, those who knew Michaels-Martinez were in shock and many struggled to talk through tears as they recalled a young man who was invariably smiling, even-keeled and focused.

“He was a bright, young happy kid — a lovely young man who always had a smile on his face,” said Leslie O’Connor, principal of San Luis Obispo High School, where Michaels-Martinez graduated in 2012. “When you look at his picture in the yearbook and look at those eyes — he was an engaging, happy guy who had a bright future. It’s tragic what happened.’’

Scott Nairne, a teacher at San Luis Obispo High School, called Michaels-Martinez a “really calm, intelligent kid” in his newspaper class, “a good writer.”

Torres said Michaels- Martinez was an only child who was close to his parents, alternating living with his mother, Caryn Michaels, in Los Osos, and father Richard Martinez, in Oceano.

The friends attended Laguna Middle School before San Luis Obispo High, where he was known as Chris Martinez. In high school, the friends played on the freshman and junior varsity basketball teams together, Torres said.

By junior year, Michaels-Martinez decided he wanted to focus on his advanced placement classes, Torres said. “He took Latin and really enjoyed it,” he said.

Dan Monroe was Michaels-Martinez’s JV basketball coach. “He was a coach’s dream,” Monroe said. “He was a team player, he had a great attitude and he was a hard worker who would stay after practice and work on his shots.”

Michaels-Martinez was “really a good quality kid” with a steady temperament that served him well on and off the court, Monroe said. “He’s one of those kids you remember. It’s such a senseless tragedy that didn’t have to happen.”

Greg Liebscher, who grew up with Michaels-Martinez in Los Osos, said “he was like a brother to me.” They used to play basketball together, he recalled Saturday evening. Michaels-Martinez “was kind to everybody, and everybody liked him.”

Greg’s mother, Tina Liebscher, called Michaels-Martinez a “great young man, very kind, very smart and very funny. He never came to my house empty-handed. He would always bring a Madonna Inn cake or doughnuts.’’

And when they all played Dance Fever on Xbox at her home, he’d always win, she added.

Her son, a student at Cuesta College, stayed in close contact with Michaels-Martinez.

When they heard about the shooting Saturday morning, she recalled asking her son if he had texted his friend to make sure he was all right.

“I texted him,’’ her son replied, “but he must have slept in.’’

VICTIMS FUND

Heritage Oaks Bank and KSBY-TV have partnered with the Santa Barbara Foundation to set up a fund for the victims of the shooting. Checks and cash donations will be accepted at any of the 17 bank branches in San Luis Obispo and Santa Barbara counties. All donations are tax-deductible. Donors may also go to the foundation’s website at www.sbfoundation.org to make donations by credit card and designate that the donation should go to the Victims of Isla Vista Fund. 

Tribune Editor Sandra Duerr, staff writer AnnMarie Cornejo and the Associated Press contributed to this report.

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