Alaina Housley’s trademark was her smile.
She was the kind of person that you wanted your daughter to be like. She was humble, yet the favorite student, a role model, a standout athlete, and the type of person to befriend lonely strangers. She was sweet, funny, quirky and driven.
Housley, 18, was born July 27, 2000. From then on, friends say, she was always pushing herself to try new things. She was a school leader, singer, and she played the piano, the violin, soccer and tennis.
Housley, an English major and Pepperdine University freshman, was one of 12 victims in a shooting at Borderline Bar & Grill in Thousand Oaks, a popular Western bar that attracts country music and line dancing lovers from neighboring cities and counties. The gunman, who apparently killed himself, was a 28-year-old U.S. Marine Corps veteran who served in Afghanistan and was thought to possibly suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder, CNN and others reported.
Vigils were held Thursday for Housley in Napa County and at Pepperdine, where many people in the bar that night went to school.
More than 100 people gathered Thursday night in Yountville, where earlier this year a veteran who suffered from PTSD shot and killed three women — one with an unborn baby — who worked at the now-shuttered counseling service, The Pathway Home, where the gunman was once a client.
Yountville’s candle-light vigil was held at the Community Center, just down the street from Ranch Market Too, which Housley’s father, Arik, owned. TV cameras were perched on the sidewalk, pointed at the pavilion below.
A table held bouquets of flowers and portrait of Housley, next to the message: “IN LOVING MEMORY Alaina Housley.” Tissues were dispersed throughout the crowd.
It was a windy night. Gusts blew out some mourners’ candles, but their neighbors were quick to help them re-light.
The crowd stood in silence for a while. Some stared blankly at the portrait and candles, while others sought comfort by quietly chatting with loved ones.
Then came impromptu speeches.
Many thanked the Housley family for its contributions to the community. They searched for answers, wondering aloud how a gun tragedy could strike their beautiful town twice. Others spoke of a need to end gun violence in America and find solutions for veterans returning home with PTSD.
“I have no other words, just I’m so glad that you’re all neighbors and friends,” said Marita Dohrenbecher, vice mayor of Yountville, through tears.
There were sniffles throughout the crowd during lulls in the vigil. Someone broke the silence by singing “Amazing Grace.” The rest of the crowd joined in.
Housley’s Vintage High schoolmates dotted the crowd. She seemed to have made an impact even on those who weren’t close with her, such as Natalie Guthrie, a sophomore at Napa Valley College.
“She radiates energy and happiness,” Guthrie said. “She makes me want to be a better person.”
Erin Shea was among those who delivered unprepared remarks at the vigil.
Housley was Shea’s tutor. She pushed Shea and helped her graduate from high school two years early.
In an interview, Shea recalled a time where Housley helped secure a pep rally performance spot for a classmate trying to break into rapping. Not everyone was supportive of his efforts, Shea said, while the crowd sang “This Little Light of Mine.”
“She was always one to support everyone else’s dreams,” she said. “She was always the type of person to push people to achieve better.”
A woman called upon the crowd to blow out their candles with a word of encouragement as the vigil wrapped up. Some lingered, but others hurried to catch a second vigil for Housley at Vintage High’s soccer field, where she spent much of her time.
Many attendees drudged through mud along an unlit path on a brisk, dark night to get to the soccer field. The air was heavy with smoke from a Butte County fire, and the occasional sprinkle of ash fell from the sky.
But none of that stopped the crowd of hundreds, which grew so deep and so wide that it was difficult to quantify.
The ceremony opened with a song from the Vintage High choir, which Housley was once part of.
“We pray for her family, we pray for the victims, and we pray for our society that such tragedies must stop,” said Father Thomas Kyallo in an opening prayer.
Principal Sarah O’Connor, her voice breaking, spoke of Housley’s talents and high character. She was the kind of person who would organize such an event as this, O’Connor said.
“We all have an opportunity to think about what parts of Alaina we can be more like,” she said. “So that forever, Alaina Housley is with us.”
Shea, who also spoke at the Yountville vigil, prepared remarks for the Vintage High gathering.
Shea encouraged the crowd to hug their loved ones and remind them that they are loved. You never know when it could be the last time, she said.
She invited the group to join her at a march against gun violence at Memorial Stadium on Monday at 10 a.m.
“As a community I ask all of us to come together as one to make a change,” she said. “Because not only is this happening in our town, it’s happening in many other places across our country.”
Napa Mayor Jill Techel, Supervisor Brad Wagenknecht and U.S. Rep. Mike Thompson spoke of a need to come together as a community.
“Someone who had so many more years, so many more contributions to make, snatched from us,” Thompson said. “We’ve had too much senseless violence.”
Lee Shaw, a chaplain for Napa County public safety agencies, read aloud a statement sent by Alaina’s father Arik Housley, written on behalf of the family.
Housley was everything a parent could want in a child: kind, smart, respectful and beautiful, her family wrote. She attended Yountville Elementary, Vichy Elementary, Silverado Middle and Vintage High in Napa County.
Her mother, Hannah, is Vintage High’s activities director and history teacher. Housley’s brother is a freshman at the school.
Housley was thrilled to start her freshman year as a Pepperdine Wave, like her mother and father before her, the family wrote.
The Housley family sent its condolences to the other victims, including Ventura County Sheriff’s Sgt. Ron Helus.
“As a mock trial lover, she would have enjoyed the public debate that is certain to happen after this tragedy, but she would have insisted that it be respectful, with an eye toward solving these senseless shootings,” the family wrote. “It’s time for leadership in our country to step up.”
The choir returned to close the memorial in song. The crowd slowly began to disperse, though many hung back to write notes for the Housley family, reunite with old classmates, hold loved ones and shed tears.
Jessica Schreuder said after the service that she had known Housley since pre-school. They played sports together since they were 6 years old.
She was open- and kind-hearted, Schreuder said, and pushed herself to break through her comfort zone. When fires surrounded Schreuder’s house last year, Housley called to check on her.
“She was really someone to look up to,” said Tiffany Vannoy, a Vintage High senior. “If I could do half as much as she did, it would be amazing.”
Younger students remembered Housley as a role model who would reach out to anyone, regardless of age.
Ellie Savage, who was in school leadership with Housley, said, “We were all shy, but she always was the one who broke the ice, who took the first move to make us (freshmen) feel comfortable,” she said. “Her big heart, that’s what stood out the most to me.”
Brooke Shein, a Vintage High sophomore who played tennis with Housley, recalled a time she showed up to a school night alone. Housley approached her and invited her to hang out with her friends. She felt cool to be seen by a senior.
Kortney Cole, a 2016 Vintage High graduate, helped Housley get involved in the school choir. She remembered Housley as a soft-spoken student who made herself available to others no matter what.
“She had this sense of grace to her and peace,” Cole said. “She was just a very bright beacon of light.”
Register reporter Howard Yune contributed to this story.
“She was always one to support everyone else’s dreams,” said Erin Shea.