Elizabeth Bowman wiped away a tear as she knelt to lay a sunflower near the base of a red-bud tree, one of six that now stand at Santa Barbara City College to honor the six UCSB students who were killed last May.
UCSB students Christopher Michaels-Martinez of Los Osos, Cheng Yuan “James” Hong, George Chen, Weihan “David” Wang, Katherine “Katie” Cooper and Veronika Elizabeth Weiss were killed May 23, 2014, during a rampage at the hands of Elliott Rodger, a 21-year-old Isla Vista resident who had attended SBCC in 2011.
Rodger went on a killing spree throughout the small oceanside community and later shot himself.
On Wednesday, members of the SBCC community gathered in a solemn tribute and invited people to leave flowers at the base of each tree, and each with a plaque bearing the name of each student.
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Bowman, who is the library director at SBCC, said she didn't know any of the students who perished last May, but felt she had to walk over to pay her respects.
"Now that I'm here, I'm thinking about their families," she said, adding that she had read about each of the students in the news coverage that came out after the crimes.
Bowman said she feels like the memorial is a place to express the sadness that the SBCC community feels, and to engage in what happened.
The trees were placed inside the West Campus entrance of the college in a grove just off the roadway, and the area is open to the public as well as the SBCC community.
Standing near the trees just moments earlier, SBCC President Lori Gaskin said that as the campus nears commencement next week, there's a feeling of anticipation in the air.
"But for Veronika, Katherine, George, Weihan, Cheng and Christopher, those feelings of anticipation and expectation were shattered," she said.
Gaskin said the SBCC community has felt the pain of the loss, and that the college's student government wanted to do something to remember the students.
Over the past couple of months, the college's associated student government had been thinking about how to best honor the students before the upcoming one-year anniversary of their deaths, said Colette Brown, Associated Student Government president.
"It's been on all of our minds," she said.
Brown said she hopes the grove of trees becomes a respite for students to stop and remember.