California Student Killed In Paris Remembered As A 'Firecracker'

Nov 16, 2015
Originally published on November 16, 2015 5:46 pm

A Southern California college student studying abroad in Paris was one of the 129 killed Friday.

Nohemi Gonzalez was 23 years old.

Her family called her Mimi. She was left-handed and had a tattoo of Pocahontas on her left arm. At the vigil held for her at Cal State Long Beach on Sunday night, her classmates, family and faculty wore feathers in her honor as the choir sang.

It was a somber affair, but everyone who got up to speak talked about how Gonzalez was anything but.

They said she was petite and full of energy. They called her a firecracker and a rabbit — hopping around the Cal State Long Beach campus's design school eager to help anyone who needed it.

One emotional student told the crowd that she hoped Gonzalez would keep designing "badass stuff" in heaven.

Gonzalez was a senior studying Industrial Design, a first-generation college student paying her way through school with help from an on-campus job in the school's design shop.

She was the first to arrive and the last to leave, her professor Dave Teubner says. He helped plan the department's semester abroad program to the Strate, School of Design in Paris.

"We all encouraged them to do it; we just thought it was going to be just an amazing experience," he says.

That amazing experience ended while Gonzalez was dining at a Parisian cafe on Friday night.

Three of her classmates are still in Paris, figuring out whether to stay abroad or come home.

Gonzalez's extended family sat in the front rows, laughing and crying with the hundreds in attendance. Her friends who took AP classes with her at Whittier High School came and stayed long after to reminisce.

Her mom, Beatriz, an immigrant from Guanajuato, Mexico, was there, listening stoically. She didn't get up to speak. But in an interview with Univision she said in Spanish that she wanted her only daughter to be remembered as a young Latina who worked hard to get ahead. That's exactly what Gonzalez did.

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DAVID GREENE, HOST:

And I'm David Greene in Paris. The street noise behind me, Rue Saint-Lazare, it's a street leading to one of those large promenades where there's a metro station, also a train station. Now moments ago here in Paris, there was a moment of silence for victims of Friday night's attacks, and one of those victims, a Southern California college student studying abroad here in Paris. NPR's Shereen Marisol Meraji has this remembrance of 23-year-old Nohemi Gonzalez.

SHEREEN MARISOL MERAJI, BYLINE: Her family called her Mimi. She was left-handed and had a tattoo of Pocahontas on her left arm. At the vigil held for her at Cal State Long Beach last night, her fellow classmates, family and faculty wore feathers in her honor as the choir sang.

UNIDENTIFIED CHOIR: (Singing) Send me to heaven.

MERAJI: It was a somber affair, but everyone who got up to speak talked about how Nohemi was anything but. They said she was petite and full of energy, a firecracker they called her; a rabbit is how another student put it, hopping around the Cal State Long Beach campus's design school, eager to help anyone who needed it. She was a senior studying industrial design, a first-generation college student paying her way through school with help from an on-campus job in the school's design shop. She was the first to arrive and the last to leave, her professor Dave Tuebner told me. He helped plan the department's semester abroad program to the Strate School of Design in Paris.

DAVE TUEBNER: You know, we all encouraged them to do it. We just thought it was going to be just an amazing experience.

MERAJI: That amazing experience ended while Nohemi was dining at a Paris cafe on Friday night. Three of her fellow classmates are still in Paris figuring out whether to stay or come home. But they made sure students shared their condolences at the vigil in Long Beach.

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN: Nohemi, rest in peace little one. You will always be remembered and present in our lives. Don't forget to design some bad-[expletive] stuff while you're in heaven.

(LAUGHTER)

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN: Just like you always did.

MERAJI: Design some bad-[expletive] in heaven. Nohemi Gonzalez's extended family sat in the front rows, joining in the laughter and crying with the hundreds in attendance. Her friends who took AP classes with her at Whittier High School came and stayed long after to reminisce. Her mom, Beatriz, an immigrant from Guanajuato, Mexico, was there too, listening stoically. She didn't get up to speak, but in an interview with Univision, she said in Spanish that she wanted her only daughter to be remembered as a young Latina who worked hard to get ahead. And that's exactly what she did. Shereen Marisol Meraji, NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.