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San Bernardino massacre memorial: Victims, responders honored with moment of silence

Julie Swann-Paez got only a few words out before she began crying.

“When I was asked to speak tonight my first response was no,” Swann-Paez said. But she changed her mind because she wanted to tell audience about the 14 people who died exactly a year ago in a terror attack.

Hundreds gathered Friday night to remember the people killed on Dec. 2, 2015, when a San Bernardino County employee and his wife entered an office holiday gathering and opened fire.

Swann-Paez, one of 22 wounded that day, said she missed her friends’ funerals because she was in the hospital, but now wakes up in the middle of the night thinking about them.

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A smile that lit up a room. A sarcastic sense of humor. A tequila afficionado. A laugh that could be heard across the office.

“Kindness, compassion, love and gratitude. To me those are the basic threads of humanity. All of my friends, who I just spoke about, embodied these traits,” she said.

The memorial at Cal State San Bernardino on Friday night began with a rendition of John Lennon’s “Imagine” and prayer. Those attending held paper cranes and electric candles.

A memorial service at the Coussoulis Arena at Cal State San Bernardino marks the one-year anniversary of the terrorist attack that killed 14 people and wounded 22 others.

“The lives lost and the blood that was shed shall never be forgotten,” San Bernardino Mayor R. Carey Davis said. “We have only to look to those who died and survived Dec. 2 to find strength and encouragement as we work together to rebuild.”

The evening ceremony marked the end of a long day of events in San Bernardino meant to honor the victims of the attack and those who offered their help in a moment of terror.

In the morning, members of law enforcement and their supporters met at San Bernardino Police Department headquarters for a 14-mile bike ride — each mile representing a victim of the attack.

The ride concluded at Inland Regional Center, the site of the attack and where employees and others had gathered Friday in front of the conference center for a moment of silence and a remembrance ceremony.

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“We’re here to remember those who lost their lives and remember those who were injured,” said San Bernardino Police Sgt. Emil Kokesh, who helped organize the bike ride and was among the first responders on Dec. 2, 2015.

“It was one of the most tragic things our department has ever had to respond to,” he said. “It’s something that the first responders who were there … are never going to forget.”

Several county probation officers also attended the ride.

More than 100 probation officers responded to the attack, helping to evacuate victims and provide logistical support. Some of those employees are still struggling to recover, said Julie Francis, deputy chief for county probation.

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“They’re very proud of the role and opportunity to assist,” she said. “At the same time, their lives are touched forever by what they saw.”

At Inland Regional Center, dozens of employees were among those who participated in the moment of silence, which began just before 10:58 a.m. — the time dispatchers received the first 911 call.

A bell rang 14 times, one for each victim.

“A year has passed, and we continue to heal,” said Lavinia Johnson, executive director of the regional center, which coordinates services for more than 30,000 people with developmental disabilities in San Bernardino and Riverside counties.

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One year later, the conference center remains closed for repairs, but there are plans to reopen it sometime next year, officials said.

County employees Paula Garcia and Zen Martinsen said they took time off work to attend the ceremony.

They were working at a county office in Yucaipa when the attack took place.

Garcia remembered listening to broadcast coverage and feeling helpless.

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“You can’t do anything to help but pray,” she said.

One year later, the attack continues to have a deep impact on county employees, both women said.

“The thoughts never stop,” Garcia said.

They made a point of attending Friday morning’s memorial, she said, “to show support, and to grieve for our family.”

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At the evening remembrance, San Bernardino Police Chief Jarrod Burguan, said the city shouldn’t be defined by the tragedy.

“There’s two evil people that started the narrative of that day, a story about San Bernardino, a chapter in our lives,” he said. “They do not get to finish that story. We do. This is our city. This is our story.”

Some locals who attended the evening memorial said they had been deeply affected by the attack and its aftermath.

“You hear of these things happening elsewhere, in other countries, and here it hit home, where you thought you would be safe,” said Eva Flores Mermilliod, who was born and raised in San Bernardino. “A year has passed and these families have suffered so much and our community has suffered so much.”

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Irene Carrasco, 56, of San Bernardino said she had felt sadness through the day.

It’s “still sad,” she said. “Sad about the families of the ones killed and also the ones that survived.”

But she was proud, she said, of the way the city united after the attack, with residents donating blood, gathering at memorials and offering whatever help they could.

“I think the community came together on that day and since that day,” she said.

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Three hours before the evening memorial began, a smaller group, including several family members of victims, gathered on the opposite end of campus to inaugurate a peace garden in memory of the five victims of the attack who were Cal State alumni.

“A year ago, the unimaginable happened in our very own city,” said Alex Gutierrez, president of the school’s associated students group. “Today we convene for comfort and healing.”

A bell with the names of the five alumni stood at the center of the garden, with a quote attributed to Albert Einstein, etched on a wall: “Peace cannot be kept by force. It can only be achieved by understanding.”

An official rang the bell 14 times at the start of the ceremony and 14 times at its end. It will remain silent until next year, when it will again ring 14 times, officials said.

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The Inland Regional Center holds a memorial ceremony for staff and guests to remember the victims of the terror attack that occurred one year ago in San Bernardino.
The Inland Regional Center holds a memorial ceremony for staff and guests to remember the victims of the terror attack that occurred one year ago in San Bernardino.
(Francine Orr / Los Angeles Times )

soumya.karlamangla@latimes.com

Twitter: @skarlamangla

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paloma.esquivel@latimes.com

Twitter: @palomaesquivel

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UPDATES:

5:20 p.m.: This article was updated with details of a small afternoon ceremony at Cal State San Bernardino.

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This article was originally posted at 1:10 p.m.


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