On Monday, Nov. 26, the first day Conejo Valley Unified School District schools were back in session after two weeks off due to the Woolsey and Hill fires and Thanksgiving break, a group of students led by juniors Jasen Cummings and Quinn Muscatel held a vigil to honor the 12 lives lost in the Borderline shooting on Nov. 7.
“We all felt that coming back to school that Thursday [after the shooting] and not really facing the subject felt awful and wrong,” Cummings said. “Some of our teachers didn’t acknowledge that it happened. Some schools in our area didn’t even have a moment of silence. We wanted to honor those who lost their lives, because they were a part of our community and they deserve to be remembered for who they were and not just as victims.”
Students had the idea for the event when a student-run political organization focused on gun control, called Never Again SoCal, met over the break and “decided that something needed to be done to honor the victims of the Borderline shooting at our schools,” according to Cummings. Cummings and Muscatel are both founding members of the group.
The group, with students from WHS, Newbury Park High School, Oak Park High School and other local schools, reached out to CVUSD Superintendent Mark McLaughlin to inform him of their plan. McLaughlin quickly responded to their email with his support.
“[We chose to plan a vigil] because we never got to really grieve for the individuals lost, so we thought that it would just be a nice and peaceful thing to just have a memorial for people that never really got to remember them because of all the chaos during the fire,” said Muscatel.
WHS held its vigil during nutrition on the first Monday back, from 10 a.m. to 10:20 a.m., while other schools held their memorials on various days of the same week. Never Again SoCal called the event the “Week of Walkouts” so that schools could plan a memorial that fit into their schedule.
“We all knew that it was going to be extremely hard to schedule an event for the day back from a long break when nobody really knew what was going on and it was hard to get in touch with school administrators,” said Cummings. “Due to the fires, we haven’t been able to mourn those who have been lost, so the plan [was] that before the end of [November], any school who [could would] dedicate 20 minutes to remembering the victims. Spreading it through a week ensure[d] that the schools who [couldn’t] participate on Monday [were] able to still honor the victims and participate when they [were] able.”
Never Again SoCal wanted to encourage other schools, both in the community and across the country, to host their own vigils in solidarity with Thousand Oaks. Student organizers created a “walkout toolkit,” which included a script with a “moment of silence, a bio on all of those who died and an intro and outro talking about our strong community, as well as encouraging those who need support in their mourning process to reach out for help,” according to Cummings.
The WHS vigil was completely student planned, but the organizers coordinated the memorials with the district office since it was a district-wide event. District administration, including McLaughlin and the assistant superintendents in the Executive Cabinet, supported the idea.
“It is important for our high school students to not only have the opportunity to express their grief, but to also have the opportunity to present a unified voice when tragedy hits our community,” said McLaughlin. “The Executive Cabinet and I agreed that an appropriate event when our students returned from the Thanksgiving Break would benefit our students, staff and community.”
The organizers of the WHS memorial worked with administration to ensure the event ran smoothly. Principal Jason Branham extended nutrition, starting fourth period at 10:20 a.m. instead of 10:12 a.m. in order to allot more time for the vigil, and administration provided the sound system.
“I think this was a wonderful idea, as we as a community needed to recognize and remember those lost in this tragedy,” said Branham. “Teachers and staff were very supportive and understanding [of the extended nutrition] even though it made fourth period shorter.”
On the day of the event, a crowd of students gathered in the amphitheater. Juniors Rylinn Cafferty, Cummings, Jillyn Kinsley, Madi McMichael and Muscatel led the event, alternating speaking into the microphone. Each speaker had his or her own reasons for wanting to participate in the vigil.
“[Cummings] actually texted me and asked if I was willing to speak, and I really wanted to because one of the victims that I spoke about, Noel [Sparks], she was the best friend of someone I’m very close to,” Cafferty said. “I wanted to honor my friend that way by speaking on her behalf about Noel.”
The student organizers began by discussing the shooting and how the community came together in its aftermath. They reminded students that counseling services were available in the front office, then proceeded to read a biography of each of the 12 victims of the shooting. The vigil ended with a moment of silence.
“We were able to actually give everyone who was listening a real understanding of who was there, and it wasn’t so much focused on politics or anything like it,” Cafferty said. “It was who are the people and really showing who they were, painting them in a light of not victims but actual human beings and seeing how they acted towards our community.”
Many students attended the vigil, listening to the speeches and participating in the moment of silence.
“It could have been any one of my friends,” said senior Devon Estes, who attended the vigil. “It could have been any one of anyone else’s friends. And I guess, you know, being part of such a tight-knit community and showing our support at school was a really good way to kind of exercise our voices… It’s just so close to home.”
Students who attended the memorial were thankful for the opportunity to hear about the lives of each of the victims and to be given the chance to pay their respects.
“I was able to learn a little bit more about [the victims], which kind of makes it hit harder, but I feel like it’s really important that everyone knows who these people were,” said Estes. “If it happened to any one of our friends, we would want to share their stories.”
Overall, the student planners feel like the event was a success and that the main goal — honoring the lives of those lost in the shooting — was accomplished.
“New disasters happen everyday, clearly being shown by the fire and other recent events that have taken the media spotlight, but we can’t let the lives that have been lost just disappear because something else happened,” said Cummings. “The loss of their lives cannot just be forgotten about because our lives kept on going. These were people right here in our city. People who we knew or people who our friends knew. We were all connected to them in some way, however distant it was, and it is important that we remember that and remember them.”