The more than 1,400 days since Yvette Velasco died at the hands of two terrorists in the San Bernardino attack hasn’t buffered the grief for the family she left behind. They said it’s actually worse.
Every time there’s another mass tragedy, Velasco’s mother and sister say they live through the pain again. When Velasco’s mother, Marie, watched news coverage of the 2016 Pulse nightclub shooting in Orlando, Fla., and the shooting at a Walmart in El Paso in August, she heard of other mothers searching for their children, only to learn they were killed. That mentally transports her back to where she was four years ago, she said.
“When you hear parents on TV saying, ‘I can’t find my kid,’ I know what that felt like,” she said. “We know that nightmare because we’ve lived it. It’s indescribable.”
There are ways to cope with the pain even though it is permanent, the family said. On Monday, the four-year anniversary of when Velasco and 13 others were killed, Cal State San Bernardino held a memorial for the victims. Speaking before the crowd, Velasco’s sister, Erica Porteous, said these moments help her family though hard times.
“For our family, not a day goes by that we don’t feel the loss,” Porteous said. “But this brings us comfort.”
On Dec. 2, 2015, a San Bernardino County employee and his wife marched into an office holiday party at the Inland Regional Center; they were clad in black and armed with assault rifles and pistols. They killed 14 people and injured 22 others. Authorities killed them in a shootout.
Velasco, who worked as an environmental health specialist, was 27.
Five of the victims — Robert Adams, Juan Espinoza, Shannon Johnson, Michael Wetzel and Velasco — were Cal State alumni. Three years ago, the university created a “Peace Garden” to honor the victims. It was built just steps away from the College of Natural Sciences, where the five alumni graduated.
At the beginning and end of Monday’s service, a faculty member rang a bell in the center of the stone-accented garden 14 times, once for each of the fallen. It remains silent for the rest of the year.
Sastry Pantula, dean of the college of natural sciences, joined the university in 2018. Though he didn’t know the victims, he said they are always on his mind.
The garden, he said, has become important to the campus. His faculty and students sometimes hold meetings there. Occasionally, he will eat lunch there and meditate. Pantula said it’s imperative to remember the lives lost, not just on the anniversary.
“When you Google San Bernardino, the first thing you read about is the shooting,” Pantula said. “But you can’t live in fear, and it is good that we are promoting peace.
“The biggest worry for me is seeing people reading the news and becoming immune, saying ‘That’s just another shooting.’ People are getting thick skin and aren’t paying attention to the violence around us.”
Dressed in dark clothes with sunglasses covering her eyes, Porteous held a picture of her sister with her black graduation tassel dangling from the frame. After the ceremony, which included brief remarks from Pantula, Porteous and William Vandyke, who works in the college, family members of Velasco and other victims laid white roses at the base of the bell. Porteous said she wants the public to know that her sister was a loving person, and she is thankful that her memory is being kept alive.
“I think that this garden and the fact that the Cal State community continue to remember the alumni, and that their deaths were not in vain, can hopefully bring a sense of awareness,” Porteous said.