As out-of-town news organizations swept into tiny Isla Vista to report on Friday's shooting rampage, campus newspaper editor Marissa Wenzke had already spent 12 hours on the story.
Wenzke, 22, was partying with friends Friday night at an apartment behind the street where the suspect crashed his car and died of a bullet wound when she heard the commotion outside.
She ran to the crash site as an ambulance pulled up.
When it was clear that a shooting had occurred and there might be at least one fatality, she texted others on the staff of UC Santa Barbara’s student newspaper, the Daily Nexus, and assigned people to write, edit and post updates on the paper’s website.
Then she pulled out a pen and notebook and started interviewing eyewitnesses who had seen the crash.
Little did she or her staff know that they were about to cover the most devastating moment any university community can suffer through. The paper is ranked among the top 10 college papers in the nation by the Princeton Review.
One student who had seen police approach the suspect after his BMW crashed into a Jeep told Wenzke that he was fearful one of his best friends had been killed. She then interviewed another student who described how his girlfriend had been shot at while walking to visit him.
Brad Martin, a fourth-year anthropology major, said the woman turned and ran when she saw the gun. “That’s when she heard ‘bang, bang, bang’ right behind her."
But it wouldn’t be until hours later that Wenzke and others would learn the magnitude of the Isla Vista attack.
“The most disgusting thing is we didn’t realize the gravity of this," she said. "Then we go to the press conference at the sheriff’s office about 2 in the morning and are sitting there when they tell us seven had died. I got emotional. I couldn’t believe it. Until then, it had been 'possible fatalities.'"
Wenzke filed updates for the newspaper’s website before going back to her Isla Vista apartment at 9 a.m. for three hours of sleep. Then she went out to do more reporting.
“It’s hard because we’re competing with major media,” she said. But reporting on a tragedy in your own neighborhood has its pluses.
Back in the downtown area, she watched the operator of the I.V. Deli Mart, Michael Hassan, turn several news camera crews away.
“But I’m friends with him,” Wenzke said, her voice choking. “When he saw me outside the window he waved me inside and told me what had happened and where the blood had been. We care a lot about each other in this town. People love this place. We’ll help each other out because we’re all in this together.
“It’s been a bad year, a tough year. We had the Deltopia riots, there have been sexual assaults and other things happen. We’re writing about friends and classmates and where we live. During the riots I got tear-gassed,” she said, referring to a riot that erupted in Isla Vista in March.
Wenzke, who graduates with a political science degree in several weeks and is from Oxnard, hopes to go to journalism school and have a career in communications.
This summer she will be working at Pacific Coast Business Times in Santa Barbara.
For now, though, she and other Daily Nexus staff members continue to delve into the shooting suspect’s motivation for his rampage.
“Now we’re trying to figure out the names of those killed,” she said. “I’ve gotten some names of people injured, but they’re being treated, and I haven’t talked to them.”