City News Service

Mourners Remember CSULB Student Killed in Paris Attacks

Mourners wept and shared stories of the 23-year-old California State University, Long Beach student killed in the Paris terror attacks as they packed into the student union ballroom Sunday to remember the "little firecracker" they lost.

"Obviously, we need a bigger ballroom," said Cal State Long Beach president Jane Close Conoley at the podium Sunday evening.

Nohemi Gonzalez, 23, of El Monte, was one of 17 Cal State Long Beach students attending Strate College of Design in Paris as part of a semester abroad program. Univeristy officials said Saturday that Gonzalez was at a restaurant with other students Friday when she was killed. A friend watched as Gonzalez was carried away in a stretcher.

Mourners packed the room to Sunday to remember Gonzalez as a choir sang. Many wept, calling the campus community a tight-knit family.

"There are simply no words to express the profound grief and loss," said Martin Herman, the chair of the university's design department.

Martin went on to share personal moments and experiences, calling Gonzalez a charismatic leader and "tiger" in the design shop. 

"She was so excited to be in Paris," Herman said. "May Nohemi’s voice, bright spirit, playfulness, ideals and hope continue to inspire and illuminate the department of design, her university family and all those she touched during her all too short time with us."

Students of the design department then spoke, recalling Gonzalez's infectious personality and remembering how she would bounce around "like a rabbit" with all her energy. 

"She would yell at you if you didn’t clean up your area," said Alex Schumacher, design student and friend of Gonzalez, as the audience chuckled.

Schumacher broke down, wiping away tears as he recalled how Gonzalez was always the first to arrive and the last to leave the design studio at Cal State Long Beach. 

"Don’t forget to design some badass stuff while you’re in heaven," fellow design student Tanya Flores told her late friend. "You always did."

Gonzalez's boyfriend of almost four years, Tim Mraz, then approached the podium with her stepfather, Jose Hernandez. Hernandez placed a hand on Mraz's back.

"She was a little firecracker," Mraz said through tears.

He shared memories of Gonzalez's admirable work ethic at school, saying she "ran that place" and wouldn't have cared for the media attention she has garnered in her death.

"If you didn't know her, she had a Pocahontas tattoo on her left arm. She always said I was her 'John Smith,'" Mraz recounted. "You're always in my heart. I love you, baby."

Gonzalez's stepfather remembered how she would scold him for always joking around.

"I guess she did that to you guys too," Hernandez told the packed the ballroom. 

As he choked back tears, he attempted to console the mourners gathered before him.

"Mimi is not dead. Mimi is right here," Hernandez said, pressing his hand to his heart.

Michael LaForte, a lecturer at Cal State Long Beach, called Gonzalez a "star student" and a "deep, profound" presence of the design department.

"She brought joy, happiness and laughter to everybody she worked with," he said. "She functioned like a mentor to the younger students."

Gonzalez is one of 129 killed in Friday night's attacks, for which ISIS has claimed responsibility. Another 352 were wounded, 99 of them seriously, authorities have said.

A moment of silence to honor Gonzalez and the other victims was held Saturday before Cal State Long Beach's homecoming basketball game at The Pyramid.

A second vigil was planned for Tuesday at 4:30 p.m. at Whittier High School, from which Gonzalez graduated in 2010.

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