WHITTIER >> Nohemi Gonzalez, the only known American among those killed in a terrorist attack in Paris last week, was remembered Tuesday not for how she died, but for how she lived during a candlelight vigil at her former high school.
About 700 people gathered on the lawn at Whittier High School as former teachers, classmates and members of her family spoke about her determination and love of life.
“While there are other events like this happening around the country, with focus on global events and their implications, I want to be very clear: This memorial is about Nohemi,” said Principal Lori Eshilian. “It’s a celebration of her beautiful life.”She also announced a scholarship will be created in Gonzalez’s name.
Matt Tremper, dean of students, recalled how Gonzalez, a member of Whittier’s Class of 2010 and 23 at the time of her death, had her mind set on Cal State Long Beach.
“It was the only school she wanted to go to,” he said.
The El Monte resident was in Paris as a CSULB design student participating in an international exchange program at the Strate School of Design.
She was killed at a Paris restaurant while dining with fellow CSULB students, according to the university.
“We are here to celebrate a determined life cut down by wickedness,” said her former English teacher Mark Gotts. “Those who are here will cherish her in our hearts and can rejoice in the time we shared with her.”
Her former cross country coach and teammates remembered Gonzalez for her hard work and selflessness.
“She always encouraged her teammates,” said coach Dan Whittington. “Many of her teammates sent texts or called me this weekend to just talk and share memories about her. One of the things that was said was that she would always push them to try harder in workouts and races.”
Said fellow student Kim Dominguez, “She was not only a teammate, but to everyone she was a sister. She was a strong-willed person and pushed us to do our best.”
Rebecca Hara and Alejandra Gonzalez also remembered how the older Nohemi Gonzalez took them under her wing.
“She looked out for me and pushed me through long runs,” Hara said. “Her determination radiated and made us give it our all.”
Gonzalez’s fifth-grade teacher, Reanna Mendoza, recalled her “radiant smile” and was glad to see her former student had continued her education.
Family members, Aunt Rose Ibarra and cousins Jackelyn Gonzalez and Mimi Padilla, were overcome with emotion, barely able to speak.
“She was a wonderful young lady,” Ibarra said. “Beatriz (Nohemi’s mom) loves that all of you are out here.”
Her cousins talked about sleepovers and sharing dolls, while also sharing their solidarity with the people of France.
“Attacks on unarmed civilians to publicize a political objective is a crime against humanity,” Padilla said.
The program also included Whittier High School senior Grace Clark Delgado singing “Imagine” as the candles were being lit and the release of white balloons into the air.
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