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California Student Killed In Paris Remembered As A 'Firecracker'

Well-wishers hold up candles during Nohemi Gonzalez's memorial service on Sunday.
Chris Carlson

A Southern California college student studying abroad in Paris was one of the 129 killed Friday.

Nohemi Gonzalez was 23 years old.

Her family called her Mimi. She was left-handed and had a tattoo of Pocahontas on her left arm. At the vigil held for her at Cal State Long Beach on Sunday night, her classmates, family and faculty wore feathers in her honor as the choir sang.

It was a somber affair, but everyone who got up to speak talked about how Gonzalez was anything but.

They said she was petite and full of energy. They called her a firecracker and a rabbit — hopping around the Cal State Long Beach campus's design school eager to help anyone who needed it.

One emotional student told the crowd that she hoped Gonzalez would keep designing "badass stuff" in heaven.

Gonzalez was a senior studying Industrial Design, a first-generation college student paying her way through school with help from an on-campus job in the school's design shop.

She was the first to arrive and the last to leave, her professor Dave Teubner says. He helped plan the department's semester abroad program to the Strate, School of Design in Paris.

"We all encouraged them to do it; we just thought it was going to be just an amazing experience," he says.

That amazing experience ended while Gonzalez was dining at a Parisian cafe on Friday night.

Three of her classmates are still in Paris, figuring out whether to stay abroad or come home.

Gonzalez's extended family sat in the front rows, laughing and crying with the hundreds in attendance. Her friends who took AP classes with her at Whittier High School came and stayed long after to reminisce.

Her mom, Beatriz, an immigrant from Guanajuato, Mexico, was there, listening stoically. She didn't get up to speak. But in an interview with Univision she said in Spanish that she wanted her only daughter to be remembered as a young Latina who worked hard to get ahead. That's exactly what Gonzalez did.

Copyright 2020 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Shereen Marisol Meraji tries to find the humor and humanity in reporting on race for the NPR Code Switch team.
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