Community unites in spite of terror

Residents of San Bernardino county and surrounding areas gather at San Manuel Stadium in San Bernardino to honor the victims of a mass shooting

Written by Crystal Olmedo

SAN BERNARDINO  

In the midst of a whirlwind of investigation and reporting, thousands of Inland Empire residents and supporters united at a candlelit vigil held at San Manuel Stadium in San Bernardino on Dec 3.

The event was held for the victims of a mass shooting that occurred Dec. 2 where two assailants, Syed Rizwan Farook and Tashfeen Malik, opened fire at a holiday gathering in the Inland Regional Center. It resulted in the killing of 14 and injuring of 21.

San Manuel Stadium was heavily guarded by police departments such as the San Bernardino City Police and the Rancho Cucamonga City Police.

“Due to the nature of the events (Wednesday) we wanted to make sure that everyone felt comfortable coming here and gathering and expressing their grief,” said San Bernardino City Police Sgt. Siobhan Sansone .

Emergency medical responders lined the left curb of the main entrance of the stadium.

“They were also involved yesterday with triage and getting patients out and so they want to have a presence here too,” Sansone said.

Outside of the venue, media outlets such as NBC, FOX News, KESQ Desert News and CNN were present and reporting updates in the investigation nationally, as songs including “Stand by Me” poured from speakers inside the stadium.

Anderson Cooper of CNN’s “Anderson Cooper 360” interviewed retired U.S. Marshall and CNN Law Enforcement Analyst Arthur Roderick about the nature of the attack and whether it could be a calculated terrorist attack or the result of a dispute between Farook and someone in the center during the party.

San Bernardino mass shooting vigil

Members of the Inland Empire community filled San Manuel Stadium as political and religious leaders and residents of the community spoke about the San Bernardino Dec. 2 shootings that resulted in the killing of 14 and the injury of 21 at Inland Regional Center. Attendees gathered to honor and support the victims and families affected by the shooting. Crystal Olmedo | Viewpoints

As of Dec. 4 it is believed that Malik had pledged allegiance to the ISIS on her Facebook page around the time of the incident, according to a Facebook executive from the corporation, as reported by Daily Mail. However, ISIS has not claimed credit for the shootings.

The attack has taken a great toll on all involved and been a source of grief to many connected to the community.

Evelyn Estrada, executive assistant to San Bernardino Mayor Carey Davis, helped coordinate the event in a matter of hours.

“I think we got started at around 6:30 a.m.,” Estrada said. “It was great. It turned out better than I could have expected.”

Estrada used to work for the city of Pomona. She said she was offered a job with Davis and hasn’t looked back. “I’ve been working here for two years and I don’t regret it at all.”

Davis’ Chief of Staff Christopher Lopez said many from the mayor’s office, including Estrada and himself, had gone about 40 hours with only one hour of sleep during the first two days following the shooting.

Lopez accompanied Davis to show support for the victims and their worried families.

“I saw him take off his ‘mayoral hat’ and really connect with people, telling them to let us know if there was anything the city could do to help,” Lopez said. ”I was thinking, ‘this is really happening.’”

Lopez shared a story about one of the staff’s meetings.

“There was a point when Evelyn had gone out to get us six-inch Subway sandwiches for a meeting and we had twice as many people as we had sandwiches so the mayor had us cut them in half and we all had 3-inch sandwiches,” Lopez said.

Lopez, a Riverside resident, has worked for the city of San Bernardino for six years in public works and the private sector in the City Manager’s office.

“I always knew that I wanted to do good for others and I see this as a great place to work to make positive changes. Unfortunately, we are still dealing with the bankruptcy of the city and the recent attack so any progress that we have been making has temporarily been darkened by this crowd,” Lopez said. “But as the mayor said in his address at the vigil we have to be ‘resilient’ and not allow this to change us for the worse.’

The American Red Cross Public Information officer for the Riverside chapter, Michele Maki, was present to offer free disaster services for counseling and support for families and any members of the community by partnering with local behavioral health specialists. Volunteers for the Red Cross handed out free water bottles and snacks such a Fig Newtons.

“When you have these kind of horrific situations, frequently it might trigger something that may have happened to a person a long, long time ago and they find themselves unable to cope. We recognize that,” Maki said. “The San Bernardino and High Desert chapter was unable to fulfill all theses duties, so I said, ‘I’m just down the road in Menifee, I’ll help you. I grew up in the High Desert so all this hit close to home for me.”

Maki expressed that the Dec. 2 shootings had been an occurrence that was devastating, yet aspects of the healing process brought her some solace.

“We have not had something this horrific happen in Southern California before this, so we kind of dodged the bullet, so to speak. When I found out that it had happened, I just … couldn’t believe it,” Maki said. “It’s comforting to see the tremendous support from the community and law enforcement agencies, and the Salvation Army and Goodwill.”

She also encouraged parents to realize how the attack will affect children how parents could possibly help them to cope.

“Children are very aware of what is going on and they may internalize it so parents need to hold them close, let them express themselves and explain the situation so they don’t become withdrawn,” Maki said. “Processing the situation will be different for everyone. There is no timeline and no one right way to deal with grief. We want people to remember to eat well and not to forget to get sleep.”

Among the speakers at the vigil were political and religious leaders from the Inland Empire.

“We’re here tonight because we understand the power of prayer. Prayer for the victims of the tragic event, prayer for the loved ones of those that are going through these trials and tribulations … for the employees of San Bernardino County that were affected by this horrific event,” San Bernardino County Third District Supervisor James Ramos. “Prayer for the community that has come together in one unified voice to understand … these types of issues and events that have happened only makes the community stronger.”

Ramos also thanked the first responders on the scene and called for a round of applause. He said the tribal government, city and county governments of the Inland Empire and surrounding regions and member should hold onto each other for strength.

“We also need remember that the prayers for the families should continue each and every day of the year. We need to remember the families are affected by this event 365 days a year and to remember that they gave for us to be here,” Ramos said.

“We come together this evening because we hurt. Because we look for a way by which we can identify where in the page of history do we find ourselves today’” San Bernardino Fifth District County Supervisor Josie Gonzales said. “We must stand united. We must praise the fact that we are alive and we must persevere.”

Community activists at the vigil called for peaceful resolutions as an alternative to the violent tactics they have seen. 

“I know people that are good friends of some of the people that were inside (the building), but thank God they are all alive. I came here to show and spread the message of love and peace,” Gustavo Ramirez, a co-founder of the human rights organization Uniting Peace With Actions, Respect and Dignity that is based in Pomona said. “I’m also here to counteract some of the Islamophobia. I had friends from three different mosques here in San Bernardino contact me today they are probably here.”

The idea that all Muslims are terrorists or hold what is being referred to as an extremist view, has been prevalent in light of the attacks in Paris, San Bernardino and many other incidents that have been claimed by ISIS. People like Ramirez want others to understand that this view does not blanket over all Muslims.

“My Muslim brothers have taught me to live a life of peace. It’s the exact opposite, there are a Christian terrorists and terrorists of absolute extremism that makes an absolute blasphemy of their religion itself,” Ramirez said.

He related his personal ties to the city of San Bernardino and mentioned that Uniting Peace With Actions, Respect and Dignity was held in Rancho Cucamonga which is just over 20 miles away from San Bernardino.

“I’ve lived in the Inland Empire all my life, since I was 1 year old, so I have a really deep connection here. I’m actually volunteering at a health fair Dec. 12 in San Bernardino,” Ramirez said. “The only time I lived outside of the I.E. was when I went to Berkeley to study Social Justice. This is not close to home, this is home.”

Ramirez said this is the worst crime he has seen in his time living in the Inland Empire, as well as the worst his parents and even grandparents have seen.

“This (San Manuel Stadium) is where we had my son’s birthday party, now we’re here for this vigil,” said Bobbi Jo Chavarria, co-founder of Catalina’s list, a political, community and educational organization. “The challenge here is the violence didn’t start yesterday. This is what this community goes through, day after day and month after month. The community has weathered it. Now the question is- can we find some grace in it and do something?” 

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Residents of San Bernardino County Yolanda Varela Gonzales (left) and Bobbi Jo Chavarrias (right) hold a sign that says “we can do better” at the Dec. 3 vigil held at San Manuel Stadium in San Bernardino for the Dec. 2 shootings. Crystal Olmedo | Viewpoints