Community grieves double tragedy

Karlamangla: ‘My job is to tell the story of Thousand Oaks for people not in Thousand Oaks’


Alex Goldbeck/Talon

Members of the city of Thousand Oaks mourn the death of 12 residents with flowers and candles

By Olivia Buccieri, Oak Park High School

“I feel like it’s impossible to talk, at least in Thousand Oaks, about one tragedy without talking about the other one because of how close together they have been,” Los Angeles Times reporter Soumya Karlamangla said.

Karlamangla drove to Thousand Oaks Nov. 8 from her house in Los Angeles to report on the Borderline Bar & Grill shooting that occurred the night before.

“I grew up in Thousand Oaks and I feel like anyone who grew up there or lives there knows it’s a small place,” Karlamangla said.

Karlamangla hasn’t lived in Thousand Oaks since she left for college at University of California, Berkeley, in 2009. Her original plan was to report on the gunman’s mental health based on a welfare check officials completed back in April.

But upon arrival to her hometown, the Woolsey fire broke out in surrounding areas and she and her family eventually had to evacuate.

“Either you were evacuated or you were housing someone who was evacuated or you were waiting to evacuate. It created this atmosphere where everyone was pushed out of their homes, which was horrible and stressful, but also now this meant that everyone was talking to each other in way that I don’t think they would have if just the shooting had happened,” Karlamangla said. “Everyone is involved and out in the world in a way that basically nature made them because the fires came. That changed the response because now it’s a full community response.”

Karlamangla still managed to attend the vigil held for the shooting the night of Nov. 8 at the Civic Arts Plaza. Also in attendance was Westlake High School senior Devon Estes.

“That really helped, to grieve as a community as a whole, because so many people were there,” Estes said. “After the shooting, I felt numb. I was really sad but I was so sad to a point where I didn’t really comprehend what I was feeling anymore. It made it easier to get through as a group.”

Estes had to evacuate three times. She spent one or two days at her grandmother’s house in Westlake Village, then another at a friend’s in Santa Rosa.

“We could see the fire creeping over the mountains by our house because the fire was in Three Springs,” Estes said. “It’s been nice having the support of all my friends and my family has been letting us stay with them.”

Once Karlamangla returned back to Los Angeles Nov. 9, a fire broke out in Griffith Park, three blocks from where she lives. She voiced disappointment that “the fires have almost eclipsed the shootings” on both a local and national level, and even wrote an article in the Los Angeles Times addressing this idea.

Karlamangla also said that with mass shootings (when firearm-related violence leads to four or more victims) becoming more commonplace in America — 33 so far in California in 2018 alone, according the Gun Violence Archive, and there have almost been as many shootings in America as days in a year — Borderline won’t stand out for too long. But she does wonder if Thousand Oaks will have to “rebrand” themselves following the shooting.

“I feel like there’s this sense of safety around the place you grew up in — where you imagine being from is this one specific thing and when it changes you have no control over how it changed, it’s sad and crappy,” Karlamangla said.

Karlamangla said the articles she writes for the LA Times on the fires and shooting provide a first-person narrative with personal coverage, instead of granular coverage, “to cover it the way people in Thousand Oaks want it to be covered, but then spread that outside of Thousand Oaks.”

“My job is to tell the story of Thousand Oaks for people not in Thousand Oaks,” Karlamangla said. “It’s awful when reporters parachute in from other places and write into stereotypes about the place they’re parachuting into. It perpetuates false ideas about those places. I can bring an honest, local perspective as someone whose parents live there and who grew up there.”

Both Estes and Karlamangla had not experienced fire evacuations or shootings so close to home.

“The people in the community have taken it upon themselves to mourn for the people who make up this community,” Estes said.

This story was originally published on The Oak Park Talon on December 11, 2018.