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Isla Vista residents ask California college students to 'stay away' this Halloween

KCBX News - Jordan Bell

Students at more than a hundred colleges and universities in California are being encouraged to avoid Isla Vista this Halloween. Letters went out Thursday to the various schools  from the Associated Students at UC Santa Barbara and students Santa Barbara City College.

October marks the new academic school year for UC Santa Barbara. Students have moved back Isla Vista this month, after a tragic close to their last academic year. 

Isla Vista is a one square mile student community, adjacent to the UCSB campus, where a majority of University and Santa Barbara City College students live. It's a crowded beach community with delis, cafes, markets and pizza places. There are far too many cars in the driveways of the homes in the community. The front yards are fairly large, many with vacant tables used for partying. On the balcony of one house, there's written in big, blue tape letters, the word 'snappa'-- a popular college drinking game. 

Students are biking to class, grabbing food with friends and working. The mood is relaxed but still lively, a stark contrast to what this community faced prior to the summer break.  

A series of unconnected, negative events put Isla Vista in the news headlines for months. Starting in January, there were numerous crime and safety related issues under investigation by the local sheriff's office, including rapes and assaults. Then in April, dozens of people were arrested and several hospitalized when rioting broke out at a spring party event called Deltopia. Finally, the most serious event happened In May, when six students were murdered and one committed suicide during amass killing spree in Isla Vista.

Caitlin Busby is a senior and mental health peer at UCSB. She says there's a mixed atmosphere on campus. For those returning, it's been a bit tense.

Busby says, "It's hard to find someone who's untouched by it."

She says everyone is in a different place in the grieving process.

"They're walking past some of the local businesses that were targeted and finding it traumatic and just finding themselves stressed out. And I think they're finally coming to realize it isn't just gone, like we do need to deal with it a bit more," says Busby.

We spoke with two roommates living in Isla Vista, Ryan Veasy and Brian Morton. They've dealt with May's tragedy differently because of where they were that day. Veasy was working at the IV Deli Mart and was coming back from a bike delivery during the incident. He thought he heard gun shots, but he wasn't sure. His headphones were in. As he pulled up, he saw a police officer running towards the deli.

"Everybody was crouching and ducking and there were bullet holes in the window. And the bullet holes were exactly where I sit and wait to take deliveries. So it definitely freaked me out right away, like I was in shock. And I definitely thought multiple times that I could have been waiting right there and I could have been shot," says Veasy.

For others, like his roommate Brian Morton, the experience was more surreal.

"It seemed like it was just another shooting that happened on the news. It was kinda like, we were all sitting back watching TV, hearing about another school that had a shooting," Morton says. "And there were a lot of people who weren't personally connected with anyone involved. And so a lot of people can't feel that way."

He says he's found a lot of students have moved on, but may be a little lost regarding their emotions. Morton says immediately following the tragedy, the community came together, but that quickly changed.

Credit AS UCSB and SBCC
Letter asking fellow college students throughout California to refrain from visiting Isla Vista this Halloween.

"We were mostly talking about how angry we were with the media for invading our privacy and getting into our business, at least that's what it seemed like. But in the end I don't think we really searched on an emotional level to really talk about the subject," he says.

Morton says the media's continued focus on Isla Vista and its stereotypes, is just one side of their community's story. During the rioting that broke out in April, the Santa Barbara County Sheriff's Office arrested several visitors for their roles in sparking the violence. Morton believes the Deltopia rioting broke out because there's a misconception among those coming to party in the community.

"The beauty here is that you can walk outside your door and you find one of your friends right away," he says. "But to everyone else out there, it's just party central. It's let's go get crazy, let's wreck this place. It's trashy."

And since both events, residents say their party culture has changed.

"Everyone was talking about how out-of-towners were destroying our town, and we were all so upset that the media didn't portray that on the news and that they blamed UCSB students and CC students and that was unfair in our opinion" says Morton.

"So, the response was if people are walking down the street and trying to randomly join your party and walk in the front yard and trying to walk into your front door and start drinking your alcohol and making a mess of everything, the response was to kick them out. So that completely changed, it became more of a tightly knit friend group, where parties are smaller. Yeah, what we call a kick back."

In response to the events in April and May, security has ramped up. Veasy says law enforcement has become visibly more present.

"Last night, I drove three blocks to pick up my girlfriend, and I saw upwards of eight cops," says Veasy.

He says he doesn't think the increased security is bad, and says he realizes, they're here to keep students safe. It's just different.

"I think I've been too close to the crazy events that have happened here to want to be here for other things, because I've just been that close," Veasy says.

By other things, he means the upcoming Halloween parties. It's a tradition that, over the years, has come to include lots of creative costumes, drinking, over-crowded streets, tickets, and arrests. Veasy is not alone, other students expressed they share his sentiment about the uncertainties large crowds can bring to Isla Vista and the desire to keep this year's event as local as possible.

It remains to be seen if the collaborative "stay away" letter composed by the UCSB and Santa Barbara City College students will achieve its desired effect. 

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