The death of a young Napa woman in the Thousand Oaks mass shooting last week has triggered an outpouring of remembrances in her hometown. On Monday morning, hundreds of Napans joined forces to march in Alaina Housley’s memory – and the event’s teenage leaders vowed to keep up the fight against gun violence and make sure Housley is not forgotten as one victim among thousands.
“Don’t forget. We move on too quickly, and we can’t do that,” Michael Rupprecht, founder of The Hero Foundation in Napa, urged a throng outside Memorial Stadium at the beginning of The Heroes March. “It’s time to be heroes for this town, this state, this country, this family, their children, their children’s children.”
Following a series of reminiscences and tributes to Housley, 18 – a Vintage High graduate and Pepperdine University freshman who was killed with 11 others at the Borderline Bar & Grill last Wednesday – marchers took to the Napa streets in a quiet procession to Veterans Memorial Park in what organizers called a memorial not only for Housley but for all who have lost their lives to firearms.
Dotting the procession down Jefferson and First streets were signboards with supportive messages like WE STAND WITH YOU, ALAINA but also more pointed ones like LIVES ARE WORTH MORE THAN GUNS. One especially tart banner mocked politicians with only platitudes to offer victims’ loved ones, crossing out THOUGHTS AND PRAYERS and demanding POLICY CHANGE to keep firearms away from people reportedly like the Marine Corps veteran suspected in the Thousand Oaks shooting, who authorities say killed himself.
News of Housley’s death inspired two nighttime vigils in Napa County less than 24 hours after the attack – including one on the Vintage campus where she studied for four years – as well as an escort of law enforcement vehicles to Tulocay Cemetery Sunday afternoon.
Meanwhile, members of the nonprofit Heroes Foundation who organized The Heroes March said a larger gesture was needed not only to preserve the memory of a well-admired local teen, but to battle for a future in which such brutality is no longer a near-weekly occurrence.
“We group-texted and said, ‘Guys, this is not OK. We needed to do something about this before it got even more out of control,’” Raphael Genty, a student at New Technology High who co-founded the Hero Foundation, said before the rally.
“I don’t want to live in a world where mass shootings are an everyday occurrence and we have to ask which one,” Genty would tell marchers an hour later.
“This is not about gun control to us; this is about being nice to one another,” Alaina’s father Arik Housley told the audience as he and his wife, Hannah, stood arm-in-arm outside the stadium gates. “What’s missing is that we need to put our phones down; talk to your parents, talk to your children. Say hello to them, because the time is gone before you know it.”
Napa County’s longtime congressman, Mike Thompson, praising the march’s young organizers, held them up as an example of what future generations can accomplish to break the cycle of bloodshed.
As chairman of the House task force on preventing gun violence, “I’ve had to meet with the victims, and families of victims, from every (mass) shooting event since Sandy Hook (in 2012), said Thompson, D-St. Helena. “I can tell you, these students figured it out. The students know we have to make change. … These students get it; they don’t need to hear more statistics. And if you’re here today, you get it.”
The sudden and violent loss of a dear friend remained a raw wound for Vintage student Taylor Bragg, who befriended Housley when the two were in a school production of the musical “Les Misérables” and stayed in constant touch with her after Housley graduated in June and enrolled at Pepperdine.
“It makes me so mad that I didn’t get to know her longer,” Bragg told marchers. “It makes me mad that she died just because she wanted to dance – or more likely, trip over her feet. But I still think she will change the world; we need to fight for Alaina and for the other 11 people who lost their lives.
“Alaina: wherever you are, I love you. We’ll be together, whatever the weather.”
Later, after the procession had reached Veterans Memorial Park, one marcher was moved to share her own story of loss. During a brief open-microphone session in the park’s amphitheater, Guadalupe Martinez, a New Tech school counselor, publicly discussed for the first time the slaying of her 22-year-old brother Ruben in Vallejo in 2010.
“It’s hard; I really debated, do I do this?” Martinez said afterward. “Seeing Hannah and Arik go through this experience, it was so hard to see them. Years later, and here are we are again: another family, another great person who had hopes and dreams.”
In the end, Martinez decided to make her voice heard.
“Please let your voices continue to be heard, like thunder in the sky,” she told marchers at the end of their journey. “Do not give up on this cause.”