Zachary Rosenblatt, a 2014 graduate from the UC Santa Barbara, lived a block away from campus in a neighborhood called Isla Vista. The area was filled with student renters that year when a man named Elliot Rodger went on a shooting spree that left seven people dead and 14 injured.
Rodger was previously enrolled at Santa Barbara City College but dropped out in 2012, although he still lived in the area.
Initially, “I remember hearing sirens,” Rosenblatt said.
He said it was normal to hear fireworks and sirens in the neighborhood, but this time felt different. He took to Facebook, posting a status asking his community why so many sirens were going off.
After Rosenblatt made the post, a friend jokingly commented on it, saying “just another night in I.V.’ or something along those lines,” Rosenblatt said.
When Rodger drove around shooting at people in Isla Vista, “No one was able to discern the gunshots from a typical night with fireworks being blown off,” Rosenblatt said. “It was putting people at risk. People could have heard that and known it was time to take cover, but instead, they didn’t.”
A couple of moments after the initial comment, another friend replied to Rosenblatt’s Facebook post; this time revealing the true state of the situation.
Upon figuring out what was happening nearby, Rosenblatt locked his doors and texted his girlfriend, who was out of town but had already heard about what happened. Shortly after, Rosenblatt left his home to be with some family who lived nearby.
“I ended up driving to my aunt’s house” in downtown Santa Barbara, Rosenblatt said. “I kind of feel like I just bolted. I remember this feeling of driving and not knowing if it was particularly safe and just wanting to get out of there,” he said. “I just felt like escaping.”
He stayed with his family for the weekend but came back to Isla Vista the next week. A few months later, he finished the semester and graduated.
Rosenblatt credits UCSB for keeping the academic quarter moving along as normally as possible after the shooting.
“I think right after it happened, school didn’t really shut down for more than a day, or a couple days maybe,” he said. “They didn’t cancel the quarter, you know? So I think that really helped me and probably the entire community from getting traumatized.”
Mental health and communal support were a critical parts of processing the UCSB shooting incident for Rosenblatt.
“Something like that has you really considering how important it is to check on the people around you,” he said. “I think that was a huge conversation that came out of it when you were in Santa Barbara.”
Rosenblatt currently works for a mental health company called Corporate Counseling Associates and said this is something he’s become passionate about since the UCSB shooting incident.
“I don’t think mental health issues are always just physiological or chemical imbalances,” he said. “That might be the case sometimes, but I think oftentimes people just aren’t connected enough and they feel hopeless. I don’t know if conversations about gun access are sufficient without having conversations about broader social support.”
After UCSB, Rosenblatt took four years off of school, but he eventually headed to New York City to attend Columbia University for graduate school.
Even as he moved to a new city, Rosenblatt said his experiences at UCSB lingered with him.
“When I was at Columbia, there was an uptick in antisemitism throughout New York,” Rosenblatt said. “A synagogue was vandalized and burned in the city, but at Columbia there was a Jewish professor’s office that was broken into and spray-painted with swastikas.”
In October 2018, a man entered a synagogue in Pittsburgh, killing 11 people in an antisemitic terrorist attack.
These incidents all happened while Rosenblatt was living at Columbia’s only Jewish housing complex.
“There were some tenants who were like, ‘We don’t have to do anything, we’re fine,’” Rosenblatt said. “I definitely resonated more on the other end of the spectrum, saying ‘I think we’re in danger.”
Rosenblatt said he brought up his experience at UCSB to his housemates on more than one occasion, pointing out that someone could find their address as being the only exclusively Jewish housing complex at Columbia, thereby putting them in danger.
His experience with violence during his final semester at UCSB traveled with him across the country.
“I have been through a shooting where it affected the community that I was a part of, “where I heard gunshots outside of my room. Now I’m living amongst a community who’s being discriminated against and targeted,” Rosenblatt said. “I think my experience at Santa Barbara made that possibility very, very real to me.”