On May 23, 2014, I had one of those rare, reflective moments in which I thought to myself, “God, my life is really good.” I’m not the kind of person who has those kinds of thoughts very often; I don’t generally sit back and contemplate how good everything is.
But that day was different. It was a Friday afternoon, heading into a three-day weekend. I had a good week at work, it was a beautiful day, and the office manager closed the office down early. My wife and I spent the afternoon together, and we had all sorts of plans for the long weekend. We were going to pick up our daughter, Veronika, from UC Santa Barbara the following day, so we had a quiet evening at home. We both fell asleep watching baseball in the living room.
At about 9:45 p.m., a girl from Veronika’s sorority called—there had been an incident at school, the campus was on lockdown, and they were calling to check on every member of the sorority. They had not been able to get in touch with Veronika, which is why they called us at home. Eventually she revealed that there was a shooter on campus and that some people might have been shot.
I didn’t think it was a big deal at first. I figured that everything was going to be okay—that Veronika had probably just broken her phone. We tried calling her but couldn’t reach her. Eventually we went online and saw some news stories about the shooting. We sat in our living room for about a half hour trying to decide what we should do. Around 11 p.m. we decided to drive to campus.
Later my wife admitted she knew something really bad had happened, but I was in complete denial the whole time. We first went to the hospital, but they didn’t have any information for us. So we went to another hospital and then to the sheriff’s office, but we met dead ends both places. We went back to the original hospital and the receptionist in the emergency room said she would make some calls for us.
I was watching her out of the corner of my eye when she started crying on the phone. That’s when I realized that this might actually be really bad. Eventually, she got in touch with the sheriff’s office who wanted us to wait at the hospital.
After thirty minutes of waiting, we decided to drive to Isla Vista where the shooting had taken place. When I asked the police for more information about our daughter, he told me he didn’t have any information yet. He advised us to wait in a parking lot nearby to avoid the media that had already begun swarming.
We pulled into the parking lot around 1 a.m., and a deputy actually came along and stood by our car. My wife was still desperately trying to find Veronika using a tracking application to locate her phone. At first, the phone appeared to be in the middle of the crime scene, but, all of the sudden, it started moving.
We now believe this was her body being moved to the morgue.
It wasn’t until 6 a.m. that we were told what we had already determined ourselves. Veronika was dead.
Hours later we were back at home, still trying to process the events of the previous day. By early that afternoon, the media had already started gathering on our lawn and ringing our doorbell. I refused to speak with anybody at first.
But then something changed. I spoke with one woman from the New York Post later that evening, and from that moment on I spoke with anyone I could. I decided that by using my voice and Veronika’s story, I could actually do something here—I could help.
Over time, media became my way of honoring Veronika, as well as a way to fight back. But for the first few months, it was an outlet—it was me, crying, screaming, in agony over my child who was taken from me.
I’ve met a lot of incredible people through this work—a lot of people who, like me, have had their lives jolted by senseless gun violence. All of them have been a huge source of support for me. We truly are a community; we understand what nobody else does.
And not only do we understand the pain, anger, and loneliness caused by gun violence, but we are doing something about it. We are fighting every day, using our voices to make change.
To this day, I still accept any media opportunity that comes my way. And I will keep doing so until we live in a world where senseless gun violence has been eradicated.