She had childlike curiosity and viewed the world with trust. She insisted on order and cleanliness in the design shop at Cal State Long Beach and at home.
She was a leader, a friend, a daughter; she was a young woman “on the same path that so many have been on before,” charging into the adventure of Paris with openness, adventure and purpose, said Martin Herman, chairman of the university’s design department.
Mourning for lives lost in the terrorist attacks in Paris made its way to Cal State Long Beach on Sunday evening, where hundreds gathered in a standing-room-only ballroom to say goodbye to Nohemi Gonzalez, a design student killed in the carnage Friday.
University officials moved Sunday’s vigil indoors to accommodate more people. Friends, officials and family members, along with plenty of news media, streamed into the room wearing black and gold ribbons, CSULB’s colors, and later carried red candles into the darkness outside.
A number of elected officials attended the vigil, along with Gonzalez’s mother, stepfather, and her boyfriend, Tim Mraz, who spoke to the audience through tears. The two met four years ago when they both served as teacher’s assistants at the university.
“Like everyone said, she ran that place,” Mraz said of the design lab. “She was the first in, last out, every day.”
She was a serious student with a playful sense of humor — she had a tattoo of Pocahontas, and referred to him once as John Smith — but didn’t crave the spotlight.
“She would have loved this and hated it at the same time,” he said with a laugh to the crowd.
Gonzalez’s stepfather, Jose Hernandez, spoke for her mother, Beatrice Gonzalez, who lives in the El Monte area. Gonzalez grew up in Whittier, and ran track for the local high school.
She was a first-generation Mexican-American.
Her mother said earlier in the day that Gonzalez wanted a career and a family.
“I feel lost, sadness, and … it was my only daughter,” she said.
Gonzalez, the only American victim so far in the attacks, was shot while dining at a popular French restaurant with two other CSULB students. The terrorists attacked several locations Friday, killing 129 people and injuring hundreds more.
One of Gonzalez’s Long Beach schoolmates in Paris saw Gonzalez get shot, but the friend was able to escape from Le Petit Cambodge restaurant. She told school officials she saw Gonzalez carried away on a stretcher.
All other Long Beach students studying in Paris were accounted for and safe, campus officials said Saturday.
Cal State University Chancellor Timothy White attended the vigil, offering condolences and reading a poem, and CSULB President Jane Close Conoley said the entire community feels anguish for the victims around the globe.
The Long Beach university, she said, exemplifies the spirit of Paris: diversity, inclusiveness, respect for differences and ideas.
“This senseless murder is our worst nightmare,” Conoley said.
The university works to ensure student safety every day, she said, and news of Gonzalez’s death hit the campus community hard.
“We miss her today,” she said. “We will miss her forever.”
Some of the most poignant comments of the night came from Herman, the department chairman, who spoke of Gonzalez’s work ethic, her enthusiasm for the profession of industrial design and ability to observe the details of the world around her.
His young student recently took second place in an international design competition, he said, for inventing a kind of freeze-dried snack with healthful fruits, nuts and seeds that consumers could then use to grow plants.
He recalled riding in the car with her one day when she was contemplating whether to study abroad in Paris, a place where he noted travelers have gone for centuries to find their voice.
“I was looking over at her, and a very strong, vivid feeling came over me. … What I saw through her eyes, through her way of listening, what came from her was openness and wonder,” he said. “There was something deeply reflective about her. I will carry that image with me forever.”
Long Beach Mayor Robert Garcia said in a message Sunday that the “entire city is grieving this tragic loss,” promising that her memory will be honored and family supported.
“Nohemi was an exceptional young woman who worked hard and contributed greatly to our community,” he wrote. “She cared about others and made a positive impact on the world.”