California students grieve shooting, wildfire destruction
Freshman Jake Mouchawar walked from his Paramount dorm to Boston Common without his phone on Thursday. He wanted to clear his head after hearing news of the Thousand Oaks shooting that occurred a nine-minute drive away from his home in Moorpark, Calif. the night before.
After returning, Mouchawar received a text from a group of friends he knew from his hometown church. Mouchawar read that Noel Sparks, a 21-year-old friend of his and a cherished member of his church, was identified as one of the 12 victims who died at the Borderline Bar and Grill.
“I’ve lost people before but my whole body just—it felt like a chandelier falling down … I didn’t know how it to feel. I couldn’t process this,” he said. “She was a huge part of that community, so everyone knew her.”
Mouchawar met Sparks at the United Methodist Church in Westlake Village and attended camps with her throughout middle school. He said they grew distant while in high school, but every time she saw him, she would greet him and seem invested in whatever was going on in his life.
She was enrolled at a local community college in Moorpark at the time of her death.
“This will sound cheesy, but she felt like a neighbor to a lot of us,” Mouchawar said. “It’s so hard being so far away. I’m still in a processing system.”
Freshman Jesse Fulton from Agoura Hill, Calif.—a 15-minute drive from Thousand Oaks—said he didn’t personally know anyone who died in the shooting but still kept up with updates.
Fulton said when he tells Emerson students he’s from Thousand Oaks, they now know where and what the town is.
“It doesn’t feel like it’s real. It almost feels like an isolated incident,” he said. “The whole world knows about this. Thousand Oaks is now on the map.”
Less than 24 hours after the shooting, the deadliest wildfire in California’s history—according to CNN—rampaged through the Thousand Oaks and Southern Californian area. Mouchawar said his home in Moorpark, Calif. remains untouched by the flames.
About 35 Emerson students come from areas affected by the wildfires—including Malibu, Calabasas, Chico, Ventura County, and some bordering areas of Los Angeles County, according to Associate Dean For Campus Life Erik Muurisepp.
Muurisepp said Vice President and Dean for Campus Life James Hoppe sent out an email to the students to check in and provide support.
“We’ve had some positive responses thanking us for that,” Muurisepp said. “At this point, we are sort of still assessing should we need to do anything else, but no formal plans have been established yet for next steps. But certainly, we are going to keep an eye on it.”
Muurisepp said his office can provide or help students find residence if they are unable or choose not to go home during Thanksgiving break because of evacuations.
Fulton said he had a group chat with friends from home updating throughout the week—first with the gradual release of victims’ names from the shooting, then with notifications of evacuations and whose homes burned down and whose still stood.
“That whole day was just a constant Google search for the victims [of the shooting] because they were releasing them one at a time,” Fulton said. “It’s helpless, but also I know if I was there I would still feel helpless. What can you do?”
Fulton said the wildfire evacuation notices in Agoura were lifted on Monday, and that his home, unlike some of his friends’, stands fully intact. Three or four of them sent Fulton pictures of their homes turned to ash because of the fires.
“Now my friends from home are beginning to be like, ‘Okay, now we can get back to grieving [over the mass shooting] because now most of our houses are safe,’” Fulton said.
Mouchawar said he arranged for a friend’s mom to write a message for him on Noel Sparks’s memorial in front of the Borderline Bar and Grill. The message will accompany her cross, planted amongst 11 others, in memory of the shooting victims.
“Noel, I have spoken about you to dozens of family members, friends, and even strangers, but there are no words that can encapsulate how wonderful you truly were,” Mouchawar wrote. “I wish I spoke to you more these past two years. You filled my middle school and early high school life with the love of Christ. My heart is heavy, but I know you are in Heaven hearing the words: ‘My daughter, well done.’”