UC Berkeley student Jenny Morris dies at 21 in Oakland fire, remembered for compassion

Michael Morris/Courtesy

Jenny Morris, a UC Berkeley junior majoring in media studies, died Dec. 2 in the Oakland “Ghost Ship” warehouse fire. She was 21.

Morris attended electronic artist Golden Donna’s performance with her roommate and friend Vanessa Plotkin, when a fire broke out at about 11:15 p.m.. The city of Oakland confirmed her death in a press release Sunday.

Born Dec. 20, 1994, Morris grew up in Foster City as the younger of two children, according to her father Michael Morris. She attended San Mateo High School and later enrolled at UC Santa Cruz. After a year, she decided to return to San Mateo for two years of community college at the College of San Mateo before transferring to UC Berkeley.

Morris was a very social and creative child, maintaining a large network of friends and gravitating toward music, visual arts and writing, her father said. Morris played an active role in her church’s youth group organization, travelling to Japan a few times to teach elementary and junior high school students at a summer camp.

According to Toshiko Morris, Morris’ mother, Morris loved to cook and bake. On one Thanksgiving, Morris worked hard to bake an apple pie from scratch for her family.

“Just the past Thanksgiving, we were talking about being thankful for each other,” Toshiko Morris said. “Jenny said how she was thankful to have us, a good very loving family and she just realized that that is very rare in a way. … She was so blessed to have such a tight, loving family.”

Morris was also really close with her older brother Christopher and felt that her brother was an integral part of her personality, her father said.

Chloe Studebaker, a close friend of Morris’, said she met Morris in high school and they grew incredibly close during their senior year. Morris helped Studebaker get through her brother’s death in high school and her mother’s death about a year ago.

“She could just really connect with me,” Studebaker said.  “If I had to break down somewhere, she would drive to me, and just come and just hold me.”

Jared Wilke, Morris’ pre-calculus and AP Statistics teacher, said Morris was an incredibly bright and sweet student, a “little artsy indie kid.” He said he remembers Morris and another student of his always hanging out together in class, and when he heard what had happened to Morris, he instantly thought of the other girl.

“It’s sort of still hard to process that this kid had her whole life in front of her and that’s gone,” Wilke said.

Tommy Imperial, another close friend of Morris’, said Morris loved to sing and write her own music and participated in her high school choir. She also produced songs and song covers on Youtube and Soundcloud, posting some of her work onto social media websites like Facebook and Twitter.

“She has a beautiful, beautiful singing voice,” said Frankie Lorenzini, Morris’ longtime friend. “A fond memory that I have is of her trying to teach me how to harmonize our voices together. I was self-conscious about my voice and singing, but she made me feel very comfortable.”

Lorenzini said ever since elementary school, they had bonded with Morris over many different interests, especially connecting over music and attending concerts together. Lorenzini added that their fondest memories of Morris are attached to music.

Leia Zion, a close friend of Morris’, described Morris as “very talented.” Morris was able to play the piano and guitar, as well as sing and write.

One of Zion’s fondest memories is hanging out in Lorenzini’s room with Morris, Imperial, Lorenzini and Diana Brewer — a friend group connected by art and music, according to Zion — blasting records by groups like Beach House while painting, writing or drawing.

“If Jenny were here, she would tell me that everything would be okay, probably,” Zion said. “She was hopeful even in hard times. I wish I knew what she would tell me.”

Recently, Morris had begun volunteering at the music department of campus radio station KALX, according to Sandra Wasson, the station’s general manager. Wasson said Morris was really charming and excited to volunteer at the station.

In addition to music, Morris was also passionate about photography. Brittany Calderon, one of Morris’ best friends, said the two of them would learn anything they could about photography, especially film photography. They would normally meet up at Peet’s Coffee & Tea to talk and catch up with each other.

Calderon said she tried to visit Morris as often as she could before Morris left for UC Berkeley because she didn’t own a car to drive up to see her. She had finally bought a car that same weekend the tragedy occurred.

“I would tell (people) that she was one of the sweetest people I know,” Calderon said. “She is so smart and fun, and she was just amazing. She was just ‘my Jenny.’”

Cheryl Lee, a friend of Morris’ who became interested in film photography because of Morris, said it is very difficult for her to process Morris’ death, as they were supposed to meet for Lee’s birthday the next day. They had also planned to go sightseeing in Japan together during winter break, having already bought their tickets several months ago.

“I think she would tell me that it’s beautiful where she is … and I should be kind to everyone and love everyone, because that was what she believed in,” Studebaker said. “She would want us to know she is not in pain … and that she is still with me.”

Morris is survived by her parents, brother and extended family, both in the United States and Japan. A service will be held for her Dec. 18 at 3 p.m. at WestGate Church located at 1735 Saratoga Ave. in San Jose.

Contact Gibson Chu at [email protected] and follow him on Twitter at @thegibsonchu.

A previous version of this article misspelled Chloe Studebaker’s name.