Tuesday night before I went to bed, my friend Taylor, a third-year student at UC Santa Barbara, asked me to read an article she wrote commemorating the second anniversary of the 2014 Isla Vista shooting.
I had a bad cold and had to open at work the next morning. I’m a senior student supervisor at Kerckhoff Coffee House, and I open every Wednesday, from 6 a.m. to 11 a.m. I made a mental note to read her article later, texted her, “Of course!!!” and fell asleep.
On this Wednesday, a co-worker, off-shift and studying, came over to me as I teased our barista to tell me about the BruinAlert text: “Police Activity vic. Engineering Building 4. Avoid area until further notice.”
I nodded, but we both shrugged. Another BruinAlert came in. Next thing I knew, people were running into the coffee house. BruinAlert: “Shooting at Engineering 4.”
I called for people to stay calm, announced the lockdown and shut our two entryways. I made eye contact with my manager walking out of the office. I turned off the music and told everyone to get down and stay away from the windows.
“Stay calm,” I said.
I sat the behind the registers with the seven employees on shift, our off-shift co-worker and another student for the next two hours. My manager sat with us for a little while, between monitoring the doors and calling UCPD for updates.
I followed GroupMe and Daily Bruin Slack feeds and police scanner reports. Fear-filled news found me: People claimed that there were four shooters with assault rifles – one in South Campus, one in North Campus, another on Hilgard and a last on the Hill.
“Seven victims. Two injured.”
With each new message, the threat moved closer. “Shots heard in Kerckhoff Hall.” “A shooter seen on Kerckhoff Patio.”
I felt responsible for the lives in the room – for my baby-faced underclassmen staff and the 40-plus customers that sat in the middle of the floor. In my head, I checked and rechecked the faulty door locks. All eyes were glued to phone screens and students exchanged whispers.
In the hours before opening the doors after the BruinAlert at 12:18 p.m., I gave a few updates to the room. I stayed calm, my voice was level. I posted updates in our employee Facebook group.
I sent most of the staff home, and asked a couple to stay and help with the lingering customers. For the most part, everything went back to normal. I refunded an incorrect order. Then, I approached my manager.
“We’re closing for the rest of the day,” I said. A statement, not a question.
After a call, he came over and said that all of Associated Students UCLA operations would be open with regular hours for the remainder of the day – word from the higher-ups passed down.
My hands shook and I stuttered over my words. I was not going to ask our employees to come to work, to leave their homes, after a campus shooting.
I walked away.
By now, I had learned that most of what I had heard had been terror-stricken word of mouth that spread much faster than the truth. But it didn’t make it feel any less real.
The reality of murder-suicide still meant two deaths.
When my friend, Casey, came in with cold medicine to take my place as the next SSS on shift, that’s what I kept repeating.
“Two people died, and we’re staying open.”
Before I left, I served a customer who asked if he could get a post-shooting trauma discount.
Six years of customer service kicked in after a pause.
“What can I get for you?” I asked.
I bought my dad’s birthday gift with my employee discount in the student store – we were supposed to celebrate his birthday that night. I walked home under helicopters and past SWAT teams and news organizations.
I ducked beneath yellow tape as I called my parents. We exchanged love but we also exchanged anger.
About canceled plans and ASUCLA and the two hours it took for misinformation to stop. About an institution with students studying during a lockdown and professors asking them to. About guns and about death. About the pain their friends and family must be feeling.
Why was everyone going back to normal?
And finally, when I got home, my four roommates circled me with hugs. I got into bed by myself and cried.
I read Taylor’s article and grabbed my phone. She picked up after the first ring.
“Hi. How are you feeling?”
“I’m not okay.”