Hundreds of people gathered at California State University Long Beach (CSULB) on Sunday to pay respects to Nohemi Gonzalez, the 23-year-old American student killed in Friday's terrorist attacks in Paris.
Mourners squeezed into an at-capacity ballroom in the school's student union, with some pouring out the doors into the cool late-afternoon air, unable to make it into the overflowing venue. Family members told stories, friends consoled each other, and university crisis counselors wandered through the room, offering their services. Fresh boxes of tissues were placed at the ends of each row of chairs.
About a dozen people spoke at the ceremony, including CSULB president Jane Close Conoley and the Consul General of France in Los Angeles, Christophe Lemoine.
"It's very important for me to be with you today to express my respect," Lemoine told those in attendance. "In memory of Nohemi Gonzalez, an innocent victim of the abject Paris attacks, and to present to her family, her friends, her professors, all my condolences, in my name, and in the name of the French people."
Gonzalez remained the only confirmed American casualty in Friday's attacks, which claimed the lives of 129 people and left another 352 wounded. The industrial design major and first-generation Mexican-American was one of 17 CSULB students in Paris taking part in a study abroad program; CSULB confirmed that the other 16 students were safe.
"She would have loved this and hated this at the same time, because she wasn't one to like a lot of attention," said Tim Mraz, her boyfriend of more than three years. "She'll always be here. She'll always be in my heart, and I think she's going to be in everyone else's heart too."
People spoke amid the sound of dozens of snapping camera shutters coming from the huge press contingent. Throughout the ceremony, many people in the crowd expressed anger at what they considered reporters' lack of respect, and event coordinators repeatedly told press to refrain from speaking to mourners.
After the 45-minute ceremony inside the ballroom, the crowd made its way outside for a candle-light — and phone-light — vigil. Many sang along with a choir before there was a moment of silence in memory of Gonzalez.
"When I first heard about it, I automatically thought about her in elementary school, and the little girl she was," Sophia Horn, one of several elementary and high school classmates of Gonzalez's who attended the ceremony, told VICE News after the vigil. "She stayed the same since then — always just tough and opinionated."
Marwa Azab, a lecturer in the Department of Psychology at CSULB who attended the ceremony with her young daughter, said she was there to stand alongside other mourners and, in so doing, bring attention to the fight against Islamophobia.
"Nohemi sounded like the perfect child who is eloquent, who is ambitions — to travel, to complete her education, that has such a reputation of rigor," Azab said. "You're not just losing that child. You're losing the potential of the future with that child."
(All photos by John Hwang/VICE News)
Tim Mraz, Gonzalez's boyfriend, is consoled before he addresses the crowd.
CSULB professor Martin Herman speaks to Gonzalez's mother and stepfather.
Attendees repeatedly expressed anger at what they considered the overzealousness of the huge press contingent.
Mraz draws a picture of Gonzalez.
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