Students from Southern California rattled by Thousand Oaks shooting


Courtesy of Beacon Archives

By Maya Gacina and Chris Van Buskirk

The college offered support to students from Southern California on Thursday following a mass shooting, less than two weeks after Jewish students grappled with a separate massacre in a Pittsburgh synagogue.

Associate Dean of Campus Life Erik Muurisepp said 35 Emerson students have permanent addresses in or near Thousand Oaks, California where a Marine corps veteran fatally shot at least 12 people at Borderline Bar and Grill Wednesday night.

An email from the college to students with permanent addresses in the area referred them to on-campus resources such as Emerson Counseling and Psychological Services and the Healing and Advocacy Center, according to Vice President and Dean for Campus Life James Hoppe.

The college also opened the Cutler Majestic Theatre for students to grieve and reflect on the shooting from 2-4 p.m. Thursday.

Senior Emma Weeks lives 30 minutes away from Thousand Oaks.

“It’s very difficult to even feel hopeful about it at all,” Weeks said. “I’m Jewish as well so it felt like an attack on my community a week and a half ago, and now again.”

Junior Alison Michalak grew up in Orange County, California but said much of her family lives in Thousand Oaks. She said her cousin frequents the Borderline Bar and Grill and posts Snapchat stories indicating she’s there almost every weekend.

Michalak said she saw on Snapchat that her 23-year-old cousin was having drinks at the bar on Wednesday night. Michalak read the news about the mass shooting the next morning and went on Facebook to see if her cousin was safe or not.

She said her cousin bolted with others through the back door of the local country bar and to the hills behind the building in order to escape. Michalak’s cousin was only 20 feet away from the shooter when he walked in.

Two of her cousin’s friends died at the shooting, according to Michalak.

“You never think that something’s gonna happen in Thousand Oaks,” Michalak said. “Thousand Oaks isn’t like Los Angeles, it’s Thousand Oaks—you never really think that anything would happen there and then especially at the country music bar that my cousin goes to all the time and that I always make fun of her for going. It’s insane because it’s like out of all the places, someone chooses to go into this place.”

Thousand Oaks is in Ventura County, to the northwest of Los Angeles. Michalak said the city is localized and removed from larger towns—almost as if it’s in the middle of nowhere.

Students from California made up the second-largest group of domestic undergraduate and graduate students, according to the Emerson 2017-2018 Factbook.

“If I think about it too much it hurts a little bit,” Michalak said. “It’s scary to think that I could have lost my cousin who is actually one of my good friends and my family.”

Both Hoppe and Muurisepp lamented that incidents such as the Parkland and the Thousand Oaks shootings happen too frequently.

“It’s hard to be this far away from home when something like that happens,” Hoppe said. “It can be very easy to become numb to it.”

Muurisepp said no one can prepare for the aftermath of shootings and natural disasters when administrators send emails and console students.

“We’ve sent these sort of messages out a lot this year already, and it’s only November,” he said.

Weeks, the Emerson senior from the Thousand Oaks area, woke up at 6 a.m. Thursday morning to pack her bags for a pre-planned flight home so she could surprise her best friend for her 21st birthday the next day.

When she looked at her phone, Weeks saw she had a CNN news update notifying her of the mass shooting that happened hours prior.

“It took me a second to put together that the Thousand Oaks they were talking about was my Thousand Oaks,” Weeks said.

Weeks said her friend is a regular at the bar and even knows some of the people who work there. Her friend did not attend the bar on Wednesday night, but Weeks said she knew many people from her middle school and high school who did.

“I’m still waiting for the victim list just to confirm if I know anybody,” she said. “I’m checking social media and tweets and Instagram stories of people who were there … we’ll see, I don’t know.”