A gunman in Thousand Oaks tore Alaina Housley out of the lives of her family and friends. But on Sunday afternoon, more than 1,000 people gathered in Napa to remember the friendship, song and laughs she had freely shared – and to try to keep memories of the woman vital and fresh beyond her 18 years on earth.
For nearly two hours – through equal measures of tears and laughter – those who knew Housley as a daughter, a sister, a classmate or a friend told their stories of how the woman had left such deep imprints in their lives. Beneath the scholar, the singer, the storyteller and the lover of Broadway tunes, they said, was a sympathetic ear and a loyal friend – a person whose memory they were determined to keep alive.
“Your overflowing love and support are truly lifting us as we grieve the loss of our one and only Alaina Maria. We are so grateful for all of you, and quite proud of our Napa community, her mother, Hannah Housley, a Vintage history teacher and activities director, told the audience with her husband Arik and son Alex by her side. “For me, your love and hugs and all of those stories will always, always fill me as we live on with Alaina in our hearts.”
“I am such a proud mama to say, she was so very strong and immovable,” she said, barely composing herself as she recounted a Biblical verse from the First Book of Corinthians she recently had shared with her daughter. “I am standing up here today knowing she is saying that same thing to me now. I am going to be strong and immovable, Alaina Maria Housley, because you are my truest example to follow.”
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Held in the gymnasium at Vintage High – the school from which Housley graduated in June on her way to Pepperdine University in Malibu – Sunday’s celebration of life was the culmination of a series of tributes that began shortly after she and 11 other people died Nov. 7 in a shooting attack in a Thousand Oaks country-western bar.
Townspeople gathered for candlelight vigils on the Vintage campus and in downtown Yountville less than 24 hours after Housley’s death. A fleet of law-enforcement patrol cars accompanied Housley’s journey to Tulocay Cemetery Nov. 11, and the nonprofit Hero Foundation organized a march the next day from Memorial Stadium to downtown Napa in remembrance of Housley and other victims of gun violence.
“It’s about the strength and character her family instilled in her, the beauty and personable nature she carried herself with,” Vintage social sciences teacher Todd Pridy said before the event, sharing recollections of Housley going back to her young childhood being brought to campus by her mother “just happy, bouncing around and smiling.”
Organizers asked those in attendance to wear bright colors, and a chain of rainbow-hued balloons arched over the lectern and a backdrop of posters honoring Alaina: a black ribbon bearing her name, the No. 15 of her Crushers soccer jersey, the message WE ARE ALL IN THIS TOGETHER. But amid the red and pink jackets and tops were a greater number of blue T-shirts being one simple and forceful word in front: ENOUGH.
“We must end these senseless acts of violence because they are just that – senseless,” Arik Housley told the audience, urging members to “put down your phones” and take an interest in their families and those around them – including those as troubled as the Marine Corps veteran that Ventura County authorities say killed the 12 people in Thousand Oaks before taking his own life.
Meanwhile, various students who had gone to Vintage with Housley described the numerous ways she had become their support – with many still directly addressing their lost friend.
“Alaina was the girl to be around, whether you needed a friend or a hug,” said Kelsey Bridewell. “When you hugged her, you immediately felt her love and happiness.”
“Alaina, your decision to call me over that day, you probably didn’t even think about it, said Jack Dinsmore in recalling the friendship that began on his first day of class at Vintage. “But that decision changed my life.”
“Alaina Housley was my best friend. And not only that, she was the one of the best people I’ve had the privilege of knowing,” said Maria Texeira, recalling how the Vintage schoolmates bonded over a shared love of Harry Potter books and musical theater. “… While I’m angry and saddened that I didn’t get more time with her, I’m thankful for the time we had.
“I promise to fight for your and all the other people who lost their lives that night. I love you endlessly and I hope to see you someday.”
It was left to Housley’s younger brother, Alex Housley, to ask Napans to keep the memory of Alaina alive – by continuing to share stories of how she touched others.
“These next few weeks, months and years are going to be difficult for many of us,” Alex told the audience. “… My task for all of you is to share stories about Alaina with anyone, and it will truly help with all the grief.”