Campus gathers to remember community members lost in Oakland fire

Audrey McNamara/Senior Staff

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A crowd of about 100 people gathered in Zellerbach Hall at noon Thursday to honor five members of the campus community who perished in Friday’s Oakland fire.

The fire took place in a warehouse called “Ghost Ship” and claimed 36 lives — among them two UC Berkeley students, Jenny Morris and Vanessa Plotkin; two UC Berkeley alumni, Griffin Madden and David Cline; and a KALX volunteer, Chelsea Dolan.

As campus community members filled the darkened hall, electronic synth music produced by Dolan, who went by the stage name Cherushii, played over the speakers.

The vigil was organized by the ASUC office of the president to allow the entire campus to come together and grieve, ASUC President Will Morrow said. He added that the vigil was intended to help the community process the events, given the difficulty of moving forward after such a tragedy.

“There’s something so tragically sad that it happened at this art collective — this space for creative expression and artistic renaissance,” Morrow said. “That spirit needs to continue and stay strong.”

At the vigil, many of the victims’ families and friends shared stories about their loved ones.

Tim Lynch, the events manager for International House, was Cline’s employer. He told the crowd that he remembered Cline as “exceptionally bright.” He compared Cline to a puppy, citing his “bushy head of hair” and saying that he “laughed a lot and smiled easily.”

Jenn Stringer, the associate chief information officer for Educational Technology Services, attended the vigil as a representative of the KALX community to read a statement about Dolan on behalf of KALX.

“(Chelsea) was lovely to be around — exceptionally warm and generous with her music knowledge,” Stringer said. “We will feel the loss of her unselfish heart and amazing contributions to the station.”

Morris’ family approached the stage with their arms wrapped around each other. Jenny’s older brother, Chris Morris, praised her musical abilities and beautiful voice. He fondly remembered that they learned to play the guitar together. He said he was thankful that he was able to see her one last time during the Thanksgiving weekend.

Michael Morris, Jenny’s father, said he was touched when he saw the stories people had posted on Jenny’s memorial Facebook page.

“There’s a part of our hearts that is missing today,” Michael said.

Victoria Plotkin said she met Morris during their first year at UC Santa Cruz and quickly became close with her. To honor Morris’ memory, Victoria recited a line from a song she had written when Morris was accepted to UC Berkeley.

Victoria was also Vanessa’s twin sister.

“She was my best friend, she was my light, she was my sun,” Victoria said. “I will love you and miss you forever — my greatest love, my greatest half, my greatest beauty.”

Vanessa’s father, Gary Plotkin, said he enjoyed making up nicknames for her like “Princess Ness,” “Sweet-Ness” and “Positive-Ness.” He remembered how hard she worked to get into UC Berkeley and said he was proud that she refused to give up even when she wasn’t accepted to the school the first time.

Olivia Green, Plotkin’s childhood friend, also spoke with Plotkin’s family. She said that as she walked around the campus, she could feel Vanessa everywhere.

“This will always be her city,” Green said to the crowd.

Mike Madden, Griffin’s father, said Griffin lived life to the fullest and regularly expressed his love for his family. He described his son’s penchant for intense discussions about philosophy.

“ ‘You only live forever’ — (that was) his own saying,” Mike said. “That’s the spirit and the way we choose to remember Griffin.”

Sharon Mustri, who knew Madden from the campus philosophy community, also attended the vigil. As she listened to his family speak at the vigil, she remembered having fun with Madden on late nights. She said he was a friendly person “full of life” and it was still hard for her to believe that he was gone.

In the lobby of Zellerbach Hall were poster-sized pictures of each of the victims. Many people wrote heartfelt messages on the posters to say their goodbyes.

“I fell asleep in class. You nudged me and offered me your notes,” one person wrote on Morris’ poster. “It was the nicest thing anyone has ever done for me in class. You are an angel.”

Chancellor Nicholas Dirks also spoke at the vigil and emphasized how art and diversity can help unite the campus community. He acknowledged the other community members who died this past year, adding that the holiday season should remind the student body to reflect and love one another.

“I can think of no better way to honor the memories of those who have been taken from us far too suddenly and far too soon,” Dirks said in his speech.

Contact Ashley Wong at [email protected] and follow her on Twitter at @wongalum.