Anxious parents watch and worry over UCLA shooting

Text message exchange between Curt Hagman and son Jonathan

San Bernardino County District 4 Supervisor Curt Hagman exchanged text messages Wednesday with his son Jonathan, a sophomore at UCLA.

(Curt Hagman)

Once is too much. Twice is implausible.

That’s what television producer Mary Zilba thought Wednesday morning when she heard about the shooting at UCLA.

Zilba was one of the parents of UCLA students who watched in fear on television as their children’s school became the scene of yet another shooting on an American college campus. In the early moments, information was hard to come by. A lockdown was ultimately lifted, and officials said two men were killed in a murder-suicide.

Zilba was sitting in her office in Vancouver, Canada, when a colleague watching CNN said, “Oh, my God, there’s been a shooting at UCLA.”


Zilba immediately called her son Cole Anderson, a junior studying political science at UCLA who had transferred last year from UC Santa Barbara, the site of another outburst of campus violence.

Anderson was safe in his UCLA dormitory room. “He could hear helicopters everywhere, they don’t know what to do,” Zilba said. 

Her mind wandered to the thoughts no parent ever wants to contemplate: If there’s a shooter on the loose, what’s stopping him from getting to the dorms? Is my child really safe?

The feelings weren’t new to Zilba. In 2014, Cole was close to the mayhem that unfolded during Elliot Rodger’s massacre and suicide at UCSB. He called his mother after the gunman killed himself.


“He shot himself in front of my son’s dorm,” she said. The events were so traumatizing that Zilba flew in, got a hotel room near campus and let her son stay there for a week.

Watching the events unfold on television can be surreal for a parent, said Jack Rogers, a National University psychology professor who graduated from UCLA in 1983. His son Matthew is a UCLA sophomore studying dance and psychology. When news of the shooting broke, he texted his son and also asked his daughter — a student in Arizona — to help find him.

Full Coverage: Shooting at UCLA >>

For an hour and a half, though, there was no answer. “It was torturous, being 120 miles away in San Diego and watching the events unfold and not being able to do anything,” he said.

Rogers knew his son should be in his dorm. As he awaited an answer, he monitored the news. Finally, his daughter reported that she’d gotten word from Matthew, and that he was safe. In fact, he had slept through the shooting and awoke to the sound of helicopters.

Rogers sits on the alumni scholarship and advising committee, so he’s on campus often. “I like to think of my school as a wonderful, idyllic safe place for people to engage in critical thinking,” he said.


With such a large student body, it was statistically likely that some of the emergency responders and media members who rushed to the scene would have children who were students there. Among them was Irfan Khan, a Los Angeles Times photographer, who worried about his daughter as he drove to the campus to cover the shooting. She was hiding in a restroom, he later tweeted.

Once he made it to campus, tried to call his daughter, but he got no answer. He tried to find her, he said in an interview, and as he walked through UCLA, parts of it were dead silent. He saw an escape ladder hanging out of a building, and his heart dropped — but he realized no one was inside. 

He met a student who helped him find Charles E. Young Library, and ultimately convinced his daughter it was safe to leave the bathroom. “She couldn’t believe I came there,” she said. Afterwards, she took a selfie with her father and said, “My dad came to save me.” 

By 12:14 he shared a photo showing she was safe. 

Afterward, she took a selfie with her father and said, “My dad came to save me.” 

To Curt Hagman, news of the shooting felt all too familiar. Hagman is the District 4 supervisor in San Bernardino County, and was in an San Bernardino Associated Governments meeting Wednesday, just as he was on Dec. 2 when news of the terrorist shooting at the Inland Regional Center broke.


His son Jonathan, a sophomore studying political science at UCLA, texted and told his dad that he was about to leave his dorm room when he was told to go back inside because of the lockdown. “It’s the same kind of reports we got on Dec. 2,” he said. “In the fog of war, no one knows what was going on. I was hoping it wasn’t a terrorist incident.”

Curt Hagman and his son Jonathan, a sophomore at UCLA, exchanged text messages during the campus lockdown.
Curt Hagman and his son Jonathan, a sophomore at UCLA, exchanged text messages during the campus lockdown.
(Curt Hagman )

Hagman tried to make sense of the news as his son texted him rumors he was hearing. “I’m worried for all the students, and I’m thankful he was in his dorm,” he said. “We’re still vulnerable anywhere. We never thought San Bernardino would be a target for this kind of stuff, and we hoped a college campus wouldn’t be either.”


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Follow me @Joy_Resmovits.


2:20 p.m.: This story was updated with comments from San Bernardino County Supervisor Curt Hagman.

4:00 p.m.: This story was updated with comments from L.A. Times photographer Irfan Khan.

This story was originally published at 1:57 p.m.

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