Mass gun violence repeatedly struck at U.S. communities throughout 2018, and the resulting protests spilled into Napa County – including when the community lost one of its own in November.

On the night of Nov. 7, a gunman struck the Borderline Bar & Grill in Thousand Oaks, a Southern California hangout renowned for its country music and line dancing. When the shooting stopped and the attacker took his own life, 12 other people were dead – including Alaina Housley, an 18-year-old Pepperdine University freshman who had graduated from Vintage High School just four months before.

Back in Housley’s hometown, students already had rallied earlier in the year to demand an end to gun violence following a deadly school shooting in Parkland, Florida. Now, with a young woman’s life brutally snuffed out, the cause became a personal one to fellow Napans.

Five days after Housley’s death, hundreds took part in The Heroes March Nov. 12, urging leaders to pass tighter firearms controls – especially for those with backgrounds of mental illness or crime – before staging a procession from Memorial Stadium to Veterans Memorial Park downtown. Signboards held aloft in the crowd promised to keep Housley’s name alive – and mocked leaders offering only “thoughts and prayers” rather than policy change after each mass slaying.

“I don’t want to live in a world where mass shootings are an everyday occurrence and we have to ask which one,” Raphael Genty, a march organizer, told the audience.

“Don’t forget. We move on too quickly, and we can’t do that,” added fellow organizer Michael Rupprecht outside the stadium. “It’s time to be heroes for this town, this state, this country, this family, their children, their children’s children.”

Dedicated not only to Housley but to all victims of gun violence, The Heroes March culminated a year of student-driven activism in response to high-profile outbursts of bloodshed – starting with a shooting Feb. 14 at a Parkland, Florida high school by a former student that left 17 people dead.

A month after that massacre, children and teenagers across Napa County joined others across the country in the National School Walkout.

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More than 75 sign-holding students at Napa’s private Blue Oak School made their stances silently but forcefully, assembling at Jefferson Street the morning of March 14 for a 20-minute vigil in view of drivers passing by. Having arranged to stand one minute for each victim in Florida, they extended the vigil by three minutes – in remembrance of each of the three female staff members of The Pathway Home in Yountville who were taken hostage and then killed by a former client of the therapy home for military veterans with post-traumatic stress disorder.

“We wanted to get across that we care,” said Joshua Miles, a Blue Oak eighth-grader. “There were more deaths near Napa, and we wanted to get across that it’s not just a national issue; it’s also a Napa issue.”

Efforts to honor the Parkland victims took other forms elsewhere in Napa County. A quiet ceremony in a darkened Justin-Siena High School gymnasium featured the lighting of 17 candles and the ringing of a bell 17 times. Vintage High students wrote condolence letters to Parkland victims’ families and messages to lawmakers calling for changes to gun policy.

Upvalley, students at St. Helena High gathered under the flag at Rotary Field before heading out to Highway 29, chanting “Enough is enough!” to the horn-honking of supportive motorists.

Ten days later, local students reinforced their calls for stronger government action against gun violence. Young Napans joined forces with organizers of Women’s March Napa Valley during the nationwide March for Our Lives demonstration, combining a town hall meeting with a rally, speeches and chants.

Among the several speakers in Napa was Juan Carlos Mora, a Justin-Siena junior who was moved to share the heart-to-the-ground fear he had felt March 9 as news broke of the Yountville shooting.

A short walk from the killings at Pathway was the Lincoln Theater – where some of Mora’s schoolmates were rehearsing a play. While the students escaped unharmed, the experience reminded him how even the most heinous mass killings have become so common as to be “a numb reality,” he told a crowd outside the Napa Valley Unified School District auditorium.

“Year after year, America has failed to act. Year after year, more and more Americans die,” said Mora, exhorting people to show compassion and show that they care. “If you see someone being picked on, stand up for them. If you see someone sitting alone, sit next to them – a simple ‘hello’ or ‘how are you?’ could radically change a person’s day.”

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City of Napa/Town of Yountville Reporter

Howard Yune covers the city of Napa and the town of Yountville. He has been a reporter and photographer for the Register since 2011, and previously wrote for the Marysville Appeal-Democrat, Anaheim Bulletin and Coos Bay (Oregon) World.