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Memorial planned to mark 40-year anniversary of Cal State Fullerton shootings

Cal State Fullerton shooting victims
The nine victims of the 1976 shooting. Seven were killed. Maynard Hoffman and Donald Keram were injured during the mass shooting.
(Paul Paulsen)

He slipped through a side door clutching a rifle and descended a flight of stairs to the basement, looking for colleagues he had known for little over a year.

Edward Charles Allaway, a janitor at Cal State Fullerton, stormed into the university’s library, going from room to room shooting some people and sparing others.

He chased two custodians, Debbie Paulsen and Donald Karges, down a narrow hall and shot them.

He fired at Bruce Jacobson after the audio technician hit him on the head with a metal statue.

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He gunned down professor emeritus Seth Fessenden and photographer Paul F. Herzberg before taking a service elevator to the first floor, where he met eyes with a visiting high school student backed against a wall.

He turned toward her but didn’t shoot. Instead, he shot into a graphic arts studio, striking artist Frank Teplansky twice in the back and once in the head.

He shot Stephen Becker, a library assistant and the son of Ernest A. Becker, one of the university’s founders.

Within minutes, the janitor was out of bullets, and he ran from the library toward a car, driving off to a hotel where his wife was employed.

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He called police and asked to be picked up.

The tally: the seven people above dead, two others injured.

That fateful summer morning of July 12, 1976, marked the worst mass slaying in Orange County until the 2011 fatal shooting of eight people at a Seal Beach hair salon.

A few of the victims’ families and Cal State Fullerton are holding a candlelight vigil and memorial on Tuesday to commemorate the 40th anniversary of the campus shootings.

For the people who loved the men and women who died, their deaths remain vivid. So do their lives.

Every once in a while, Paul Paulsen will head to his personal library and pull a few college textbooks from the shelf.

He’ll flip through the literature anthologies and see handwritten notes in the margins. With a rush of excitement, he’ll recognize the bookowner’s cursive.

Debbie. His older sister. One of the first victims killed.

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“I can hear her voice saying those things,” said Paulsen, 64, who lives less than four miles from the university. “It’s like she’s living in those notes.”

Debbie was Paul’s mentor, or “spirit guide,” as he called her. Debbie, a 26-year-old graduate student in English literature, wanted to be a professor. 

Debbie always included Paul when she hung out with friends. She played guitar and loved Judy Collins and Joni Mitchell.

Paulsen searched for a way to honor the memory of his sister and her colleagues.  

“A memorial is as much for the living as it is for the deceased,” Paulsen said. “It’s a bonding experience for the victims’ families and the community to come together and honor those who lost their lives, and it’s also to remind people that this tragedy can strike at any other time. It’s a continual healing process.”

A few days before he died, Frank Teplansky called his only daughter, Patricia Almazan, and talked about how he was looking forward to her spaghetti dinner.

He added one more thing.

“Patsy,” he told her, “if something happens to me, you and your brothers are well taken care of.”

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Almazan would never hear his voice again.

By the time she got to the hospital, her father was unconscious.

“He looked so peaceful and serene. He grabbed my hand and started squeezing it,” said Almazan, 70. “I felt like my dad waited for me.”

Teplansky brought his sense of humor and talent for making friends to the campus media center, where he worked as a graphic artist for 11 years.

He was a gifted pianist, caricaturist and magician, his daughter said.

Teplansky spent 20 years in the Marine Corps and served during the Korean War. He was kind to his co-worker, Allaway, who was also an ex-Marine.

Debbie Paulsen too was friendly with the person who would become her killer.

“My sister’s mistake was that she befriended the shooter,"  Paulsen said. “She was a very compassionate person who loved everybody. When she saw someone in need, she tried to help. In this case, her motives were misinterpreted.”

An Orange County Superior Court judge ruled that Allaway was insane and therefore not responsible for his actions, and he was committed to a mental institution.

He currently resides at Patton State Hospital in San Bernardino. 

Over the years, Allaway has petitioned to go free, claiming he is no longer a danger to society. At 77, he has lived longer than his oldest victim, Seth Fessenden, who was 72 when he was gunned down.

In 2001, Allaway put in a bid for release. But Superior Court Judge Frank F. Fasel concluded that doctors had difficulty predicting whether Allaway might kill again, given his long history of schizophrenia, and denied the killer’s request.

The prospect of seeing the mass killer possibly go free prompted an organized movement to block such a move. Orange County Supervisor Todd Spitzer led a group website and organized a letter-writing campaign and memorial service on the Cal State Fullerton campus.

Paulsen and Almazan said they are particularly grateful for the support they received from Spitzer, Orange County Dist. Atty. Tony Rackauckas and Deputy Dist. Atty. Dan Wagner, who have all worked to keep Allaway locked up.

When victims’ families reached out to the school this year to host a vigil in honor of those who lost their lives, the university said it was important for the campus to offer support and stand in solidarity with the families, said Christopher Reese, director of government and community relations.

About two years after the shooting, the university planted seven stone pine trees in honor of each victim and listed each person’s name on a plaque for a memorial installed north of the library.

It’s a revered place for Paulsen and Almazan. They tend to the memorial, clearing away debris, polishing the plaque and planting roses near their family members’ names beneath the evergreens.

“From my sister’s perspective, she would like that living memorial,” Paulsen said. “It’s very cool and serene, and for us here, it’s peaceful.”

The candlelight vigil will be held from 7 to 8:30 p.m. Tuesday at the Memorial Grove at Cal State Fullerton, 800 N. State College Blvd. For more information, call (657) 278-7295 or contact Jeanne Tran at jetran@fullerton.edu.

Kathleen Luppi, kathleen.luppi@latimes.com

Twitter: @KathleenLuppi


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