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School principal, cellist who leaped to his death at Disneyland remembered as positive influence

Newland Elementary School principal and professional cellist Chris Christensen poses for a photo at a gig.
Newland Elementary School principal and professional cellist Chris Christensen, pictured at a gig, was identified as the man who leaped to his death from a parking structure at Disneyland on Saturday.
(Courtesy of Dianna Gray)
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Principal and cellist Christopher Christensen was the life of the party at a private event in late October, just like he was at most of his gigs, longtime friend Dianna Gray said. He performed with equal measures of professionalism and glee as he and a small ensemble of musicians led a packed dance floor through the waltz.

“He was playing at his best,” Gray, a fellow musician and a teacher with the Irvine Unified School District, said.

Christensen hammed it up in between sets, sporting a broad smile as he posed for photos with guests. He continued cracking jokes and being a source of support for Gray in texts and phone calls over the next few weeks, even as his life fell into turmoil.

“He didn’t put any of that on his friends,” Gray said. “He just didn’t reach out in time. There were so many people who wanted to help him.”

Like many, she was shocked when Orange County Coroner’s officials identified the Westminster resident as the man who leaped to his death at Disneyland’s Mickey and Friends parking structure on Saturday.

Christensen was principal at Newland Elementary in Huntington Beach after having served in the same role at Courreges Elementary in Fountain Valley.

“I hate when people leave this Earth with so many unanswered questions,” read a Facebook post shared from Christensen’s account that evening. “So, I hope this provides some insight and perspective …”

Children pay respects at a tribute for Newland Elementary principal Chris Christensen at Courreges Elementary.
Tristan, left, and Timmy Nguyen and Ryan Truong, right, pay their respects at a tribute for Newland Elementary principal Chris Christensen at Courreges Elementary in Fountain Valley on Tuesday.
(Scott Smeltzer / Staff Photographer)

He wrote he and his wife had gotten into a fight that resulted in his arrest. That happened on or about Nov. 15, and he was subsequently charged with misdemeanor counts of battery as well as child abuse and endangerment, according to court records.

Christensen pleaded not guilty to those allegations. In his post, he denied ever hitting his wife or the two daughters they were raising together. He also claimed that his spouse did not want him to get arrested and “she, too, has been trying to clear my name with little success.”

Christensen’s wife could not immediately be reached for comment. His attorney declined to discuss the matter on Tuesday, deferring to the statement he left on social media.

”... The events of that night have completely unraveled both of our lives,” Christensen wrote. “I am on the brink of losing my job, as I am out on administrative leave until my case is ‘resolved.’”

Christensen insisted on his innocence and blamed what he viewed as a “deeply flawed” justice system for his struggles. He had been scheduled to appear in court Monday, but the item on the docket has since been canceled.

He went on to express appreciation for the students and families he has met over the course of his career as an educator. He was with the Fountain Valley Unified School District for over 21 years, Gray said.

She described him as both professional and likable whether he was on campus or onstage. The last piece they played together was the theme from “Game of Thrones,” and she recalled struggling to suppress a laugh as his burrow furrowed with commitment to their performance.

“It’s such a serious piece, and he was so into it,” she said with a chuckle during a brief interview. “And if I know Chris, well, he’s a total jokester. He made it fun.”

Christensen was raised in a family of musicians, Gray said. His mother was a singer, and his father collaborated on the composition of “Baroque Hoedown,” more commonly known as the theme music for Disney’s Electric Light Parade.

Outside of his duties as a principal, he ran a business booking musicians for events and helped many local musicians find work, Gray said. But he played cello for passion, not money, often signing himself up for two or three shows a night even though he already had a stable income.

“He drove like a bat out of hell to get from gig to gig,” Gray said.

He held his last performance the night before he died. He called it a success, and went on to thank all of those he has played with over the years in his post on Saturday.

Newland Elementary School principal and professional cellist Chris Christensen gives a thumbs up while preparing for a gig.
Newland Elementary School principal and professional cellist Chris Christensen gives a thumbs up while preparing for a gig. He was identified as the man who leaped to his death from a parking structure at Disneyland on Saturday.
(Courtesy of Dianna Gray)

“We have had a blast performing all over and creating such fond memories together,” he wrote.

Christensen wrote that he and his wife married privately a little over three years ago. Gray said he had been managing loneliness for a long time and appeared to achieve a kind of happiness after meeting his spouse that she hadn’t seen in her friend in years.

“It was mostly through Facebook that I saw that,” Gray said.

A tribute for Newland Elementary principal Chris Christensen at Courreges Elementary in Fountain Valley.
(Scott Smeltzer / Staff Photographer)

On Tuesday, students gathered at Courreges Elementary in Fountain Valley to pay their respects to the principal.

“Mr. Christensen has been a respected leader in FVSD for over 20 years,” Fountain Valley Elementary School District officials wrote in a statement. “His contributions and connections to this community are immeasurable. He was a father, son, husband, brother, and friend to so many. His passing leaves us devastated and heartbroken.”

“Marlena and I love and adore each other and our relationship has been amazing … up until recently,” Christensen wrote in his post.

“There is so much more I want to say,” he added. “But I am going to spend the rest of today reaching out to those closest to me to let them know how much I love them.”

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