Photos by Stephanie Rivera.
Hundreds gathered at Cal State Long Beach (CSULB) Sunday afternoon for a vigil remembering the life of Nohemi Gonzalez, a 23-year-old industrial design student described as charismatic and compassionate, who was killed during Friday’s terrorist attacks in Paris.
The El Monte resident is the only confirmed American fatality to emerge from the attacks, although several other Americans were reportedly injured, school officials said.
Gonzalez was at a restaurant in Paris with other students, including CSULB students, when she was shot by an attacker, according to CSULB President Jane Close Conoley.
“Cal State Long Beach is a very big university, but it has an even bigger heart and commitment and hope to be each Beach student’s second family,” Close Conoley said at the vigil.
School officials said Gonzalez was one of 17 CSULB students studying abroad in Paris, the other 16 of whom have been located and found safe. There are about 80 French foreign exchange students on campus, they said.
During the two-hour vigil, students with the school’s Bob Cole Conservatory of Music lent their voices to both open and close the event.
Other special guests included California State University System Chancellor Timothy White—who read a poem written specifically for Gonzalez, on Sunday morning, by U.S. Poet Laureate Juan Felipe Herrera—French Consul General in Los Angeles Christophe Lemoine, Mayor Robert Garcia and Long Beach Police Chief Robert Luna.
Friends described her as a hard worker and as a student assistant who was willing to help others.
“She was always the last one to leave the shop,” said fellow industrial design student Alex Schumacher, who knew Gonzalez for four years. “She would yell at you if you didn’t clean up your area—she kept that pretty serious—but she would always be the first person to help you as well.”
“If there’s anything bad to say about her, I have nothing,” said Gonzalez’s stepfather, Jose Hernandez. “I can say so many good things about her. Mimi is in our hearts.”
Gonzalez’s boyfriend of nearly four years, Tim Mraz, called her a firecracker who was in heaven dressing a hundred pugs—her favorite breed of dogs.
“She always said I was her John Smith,” Mraz said of Gonzalez, who he said had a Pocahantas-inspired armband tattoo. At the vigil, Mraz and a few others were seen wearing feathered bands around their arms.
Gonzalez was in Paris completing a semester study abroad program with the Strate College of Design and was part of a team that recently won second place in the international biomimicry Global Design Challenge.
According to Martin Herman, chair of the university’s design department, Gonzalez’s group designed a 100 percent biodegradable packaged snack pack filled with healthy dried fruits and nuts. Herman said the pack came with dehydrated soil and seeds so the user can cultivate a plant after finishing the snack.
“Nohemi possessed a character that was truly rare,” Herman said. “What I saw in her was a beautiful soul who practiced and applied goodness and compassion in her friendships and relationships with others.”
The vigil ended outside of the campus’ University Student Union, during which hundreds of guests joined the family and friends of Gonzalez and lit candles, mourning the loss of a bright soul.
For the latest news on the situation in Paris, follow the New York Times’ live coverage.