The bell tolled 14 times, cutting through the cold, brisk wind that blew through the Cal State San Bernardino campus on Dec. 2.
Fourteen times — once for each life lost on Dec. 2, 2015, at the Inland Regional Center in San Bernardino. Five of them for the five CSUSB alumni who were among those killed in the mass shooting, up to then, the worst terrorist attack on U.S. soil since Sept. 11, 2001.
The bell, which stands in the newly dedicated Peace Garden next to the university’s Chemical Sciences building, is silent now, and will not be heard from again until Dec. 2, 2017.
But on the day it rang, the campus and the city of San Bernardino collectively remembered the 14 killed, the 22 wounded, along with the law enforcement officers, firefighters and other first responders in various ceremonies.
Cal State San Bernardino was the site of two of those commemorations, all of which sought to remember, to honor, to heal and to build from the tragedy.
And to remind all that hate will not ultimately win.
As the sun began to set on that December Friday afternoon, CSUSB health sciences major Michael Nguyen rang the bell to open the dedication ceremony for the Peace Garden. Relatives of the victims, students, faculty, staff and community residents were in attendance. The idea for the garden came up almost immediately after it was learned that CSUSB College of Natural Science alumni were among the 14.
“A year ago, the unimaginable happened in our very own city. A year ago, we felt the pain of losing so many innocent lives. But today, we convene for comfort and healing,” said Alex Gutierrez, president of CSUSB’s Associated Students Inc. “This Peace Garden was created to commemorate our brothers and sisters, whose memories live on. It is our hope that this garden will provide serenity, to ease those especially hard days. We intend this garden to create peace — peace between people, representing inclusion and unity.”
The garden has five large boulders, five benches, five trees, and a five-sided pedestal on which the bell stands. They represent the five CSUSB alumni, all graduates from the university’s College of Natural Sciences: Robert Adams, of Yucaipa (public health education, 2011); Juan Espinoza, Highland (biology, 2002); Shannon Johnson, Los Angeles (environmental health science, 2004); Yvette Velasco, Fontana (environmental health science, 2013); and Michael Wetzel, Lake Arrowhead (biology, 2001).
Also lost that day were Isaac Amanios, Fontana; Bennett Bet-Badal, Rialto; Harry Bowman, Upland; Sierra Clayborn, Moreno Valley; Aurora Godoy, San Jacinto; Larry Daniel Kaufman, Rialto; Damien Meins, Riverside; Tin Nguyen, Santa Ana; and Nicholas Thalasinos, Colton.
They all were San Bernardino County Department of Public Health employees who were at the Inland Regional Center for a training session and holiday party.
Bill Van Dyke, a graduate student in public health services, told the assembled that the college’s students and alumni are close-knit, like family, who collectively “made a decision to improve the world in which we live.”
He continued: “Our family was impacted one year ago today. We lost brilliant contemporaries who held the promise of making this world better. They made us stronger. They solidified our resolve to be better, academically and professionally. Today, their memories inspire us to do more, to be more, in their honor. To achieve great things through the dedication to this great school that we love, the communities we serve.”
At the end of the dedication ceremony, college Dean Kirsty Fleming directed attention to a quote from Albert Einstein, chiseled into the low wall of the garden: “Peace cannot be kept by force; it can only be achieved by understanding.”
Fleming said it is a lesson that “we should all learn to understand. It promotes tolerance.”
A few hours later, at the university’s Coussoulis Arena, hundreds gathered for the Night of Remembrance event, organized by the San Bernardino Mayor’s Office, the San Manuel Band of Mission Indians, the San Bernardino Community College District, CSUSB, and other groups. In attendance were families of the victims, survivors of the attack, first responders and area residents. They heard from speakers representing law enforcement, religious organizations, city and county government, and from Julie Swann-Paez, who was seriously wounded that day.
She said she never got to mourn her friends properly; as they were being laid to rest, she was in the hospital, fighting for her own life, then for her recovery. She said she initially didn’t want to speak at the event, but then decided that she wanted to honor them — “these incredible people, my friends, who had their lives taken from them” — by sharing her memories of each person.
After an emotional remembrance of each of her friends, Swann-Paez said: “Kindness, compassion, love and gratitude, to me, those are the basic threads of humanity. All of my friends about who Ijust spoke about embodied these traits. The more kindness, compassion, love and gratitude that we show to one another, the stronger the fabric of humanity is. Evil and hatred are like knives; they cut this fabric. Unfortunately, I am not naïve enough to believe that love can just make evil go away. But I do believe that kindness, and compassion, love and gratitude can repair the damage that evil and hatred do.
“We have all experienced the benefit of those traits, and we have all experienced the damage of evil and hatred,” she said. “We all have a responsibilities to work together to make repairs in humanity. Not just mend it, but make humanity stronger.”
While there was much reflection on the past, there also were words of encouragement to move on, to build from the grief and sadness of the tragedy.
“In the days that followed (Dec. 2, 2015), we created the San Bernardino Strong Fund, to provide for the young people of the families affected by this tragedy the resources to attend CSUSB,” said university President Tomás D. Morales.
“One year later, we must all look within ourselves, individually and collectively, and come to a decision,” he said. “We can either let this tragedy define us, destroy us, or chose to draw strength from it. I have made my choice, and I’m here to say, today and always, together we are stronger.”
Morales’ words were an echo of what San Bernardino Police Chief Jarrod Burguan said earlier in the evening.
He said “two evil people” started the narrative of Dec. 2, 2015, “a chapter in our lives, and a chapter in our history. But the ending of that story is not over. The narrative is yet to be decided. They do not get to finish that story. We do.
“This is our city,” Burguan said “This is our story. We will finish that chapter, and we will close the book on this event. So, let’s be united. Let’s be strong. And let’s show the world what we’re made of. Love your neighbor, love your family, love this community, and most of all, love those people who are struggling with the events of that day. Let love win the day. Let’s show the world, the world that is still watching us, that terror will not win.”
To view a slideshow online of the Peace Garden dedication ceremony, go to http://bit.ly/2h39NDO.
To view a slideshow online of the Night of Remembrance event at Coussoulis Arena, go to http://bit.ly/2h39JUn.