Student Explains Private Santana Memorial, Mayor Agrees

The student leader heading Friday's ten-year anniversary memorial of the Santana shooting wrote an open letter to the Mayor defending the private nature of the memorial.

March 5 marks the ten-year anniversary of the shooting at Santana High School, and a private memorial service on campus sparked some controversy, that's now settling down.

Zach Cabading, president of the Peace Council, which is organizing Friday's private memorial, sent an open letter to on Thursday, first published on Sign On San Diego, defending and explaining the reasons for keeping the memorial free from the public and media gaze.

In the letter Cabading said "the media circus that ensued only added to the stress and misery of the situation." He added, "I am positive that only one who is very accustomed to public attention would appreciate flashing cameras and staring onlookers as I stood in memorial of one of the most terrible days of my life."

Mayor Randy Voepel replied with a letter to Cabading on Thursday afternoon, agreeing with the president's points about privacy.

"I agree with and support the Peace Council’s decision to keep the March 5 ten-year School memorial private. I also understand your aversion to "media circuses,'" Voepel wrote.

He said he felt left out by not being invited, and that many in the city probably feel that way, because so many in town came out in support.

"The whole Santee community, churches, companies and many individuals donated money time or products to your school and those affected," he wrote. "I am a that has honoring our fallen, embedded in my DNA."

The Mayor announced earlier in the week that in light of no formal public memorial being set up, that he would be at the, laying flowers and saying a prayer, and all are invited to join him.

"I am simply going to do what I have always done and anyone that wants to meet at high noon March 5 to offer our love and caring is welcome," Voepel wrote.

"We embrace the Mayor’s proposal of a public ceremony, but we shall hold ours private for the better welfare of those that were more directly affected by the shooting," wrote Cabading.

Full letter from Zach Cabading, president of the Santana High School Peace Council:

Greetings Mayor Voepel,

On March 5, 2001, a terrible incident that occurred at our school did indeed shock and devastate our student body and the Santee community. We here at Santana High School have heard your comments regarding our decision to keep our 10th Anniversary Ceremony private, and we apologize if our decision did not meet your hopes for what you think the Ceremony should be. As the President of Santana’s Peace Council, the school group that has taken up the responsibility of holding a memorial for the upcoming tenth anniversary, I wish to offer you our reasoning as to why we chose to keep our Ceremony undisclosed to the public eye.

I think that both you and I can agree that when the shooting occurred on March 5th, the media circus that ensued only added to the stress and misery of the situation. Quite frankly, I do not believe that if I were searching for my children or spouse among crowds of shocked and panicked individuals, I would appreciate a reporter or photographer documenting my distress. This situation applies to the 10th Anniversary of the shooting. I am positive that only one who is very accustomed to public attention would appreciate flashing cameras and staring onlookers as I stood in memorial of one of the most terrible days of my life.

I believe, same as you, that people who are lost should be memorialized, but I do not believe that they should be honored for the sake of some publicity photographs, or for a filler on the evening news. We believe that the family and friends of the victims would take a similar stance. We understand that there are many in our community that would like to pay their respects, but we wish to avoid the media circus that would surround a public ceremony. May we add that the City of Santee had never announced plans or any sort of collaboration with Santana High School until the Mayor received word that he was not invited to our Ceremony. We embrace the Mayor’s proposal of a public ceremony, but we shall hold ours private for the better welfare of those that were more directly affected by the shooting.

I have personally witnessed the difficulties of the shooting, as my brother attended Santana High School during the time of it. We apologize, Mr. Voepel, that you were not invited to this event, but it is important to remember that while the shooting’s effects branched far into the hearts of the community, it was the students, faculty, and victims (and families of these victims) of our student body that undoubtedly suffered the most. Our decision was not because of personal distaste for you. We welcome the idea of a community memorial, but we would prefer if our school’s was private. Whether the public agrees or disagrees with our decision, we whole-heartedly believe that our choice for a private memorial was in the best, genuine interest of our school community, which ranges from freshman to alumni, and students to their families.

On behalf of the Santana High School Peace Council,

Thank you.

-Zach Cabading

President, Peace Council

Santana High School

Reply from Mayor Randy Voepel:

TO: Mr. Zach Cabading

President, Peace Council

Santana High School

Dear Mr. President,

This missive is in response to your open letter.

I agree with and support the Peace Council’s decision to keep the March 5 ten year School memorial private.  I also understand your aversion to “media circuses”. Please understand that I am a passionate supporter of Santana and your District. When I was not invited to the Ceremony you are having, I felt like a father that was not invited to his own families’ event. Mayors are like that sometimes.

Any one that knows me personally knows the depth and force of my commitment to our Community. Ten years ago I gave my all for The GUHSD, Randy Gordon, Brian Zuckor families, anyone involved in this tragedy. The whole Santee Community, Churches, Companies and many individuals donated money time or products to your school and those affected.

Santana is part of the Santee family and like any family we share good times and bad times. It is important to some of us to meet, remember, pray and honor the memories of our two angels Randy Gordon, Bryan Zuckor and the families that were torn up by this shooting.

I have been putting flowers every March 5 at the Santana sign and saying a prayer for the last nine years. Other than my wife, I doubt if no one knew. I am simply going to do what I have always done and anyone that wants to meet at high noon March 5 to offer our love and caring is welcome.

I am especially thankful for our brave Deputy Sheriff’s and Firefighter Paramedics who did their duty that day 10 years ago with no hesitation in risking their lives to end the shooting, we will remember and honor them as well.

Mr. President, I am a Vietnam combat veteran that has honoring our fallen, imbedded in my DNA. Please understand that my initial reaction to no public memorial was very normal for a leader such as me. Also, so you know, Michael Gordon, Randy’s brother will be having a gathering of friends and family at 0900 on March 5, others may gather at the Santana sign at various times. These gatherings are also a form of closure for some of us as well.


Randy Voepel

Mayor, City of Santee

Alicia Morris March 06, 2011 at 08:19 AM
Unless you were there, I don't think you have a right to say or think you know who was invited and who wasn't. Trust me, no one wanted the media there.
Dolores Brown March 06, 2011 at 08:21 AM
Kathy, they weren't invited. They found a loophole in that since the memorial was to be held at the end of the final period, they could not be prevented from being there.
Kathy March 06, 2011 at 08:22 AM
Alicia, you need not explain to me what the Peace Council is about, I was one of the original parents involved with it. Fortunately, you did not experience what I as a parent, who had a child within 20 feet of Andy, went through. I pray that when you become an adult and have children, you never have to experience it. Can I ask you why you, "did not respect the wishes of the students" and attended the Memorial on Friday? I did respect the wishes and did not attend. I am not blaming Zach for the disrespectful letter, I place the responsibility where it belongs, on the Principal and the GUHSD Superintendent.
Dolores Brown March 06, 2011 at 08:30 AM
Joe, I understand what you and others are saying. My daughter is a student at Santana. The decision was not made by the one student, he is the president of the peace council. The peace council was in charge of organizing the ceremony. GUHSD also had a say in how the event was to be handled. As the president of the organization in charge, Zach was the spokesperson. The ceremony also wrapped up Peace Week at the school which is one of the reasons for the desire for privacy and for holding it the day before the actual date. The information I received from my daughter and other students that I know, the general feeling of the students was to have a private ceremony. And most couldn't understand why people can't respect that. I understand and appreciate the hurt feelings many had over this. Although I was not directly affected by the tragedy, I have friends who were. They all seem to be ok with the ceremony being private, and many attended the public ceremony today with the mayor. And yes, the media is important, but out of respect and concern for the victims families they chose privacy. As I said this decision was NOT made by one student, but by GUHSD and the school itself as well as the entire peace council. And to let you know, a compromise was reached, it was held after the last period of school was released, Mayor Voepel and 10News were in attendance. Before making accusations and critizing others, please make sure you have all the facts
Kathy March 06, 2011 at 08:31 AM
Dolores, leave it to the Media to find the loopholes. I did respect their wishes and refrained from attending on Friday. It just bothered me to see disrespect when it pertained to something of this nature. I did find it interesting when I read the article on KGTV website, that they spoke to Zach and his brother several times and quoted them. It seems to me, that if it was his wish for the media to not attend, why would you speak to them. I do appreciate you informing me that Mayor Voepel did attend on Friday, I am surprised he attended, when he stated to Santee Patch that he would respect The Peace Councils request by not attending, and wait until Saturday. Hum???
Alicia Morris March 06, 2011 at 08:31 AM
I asked a member of peace council if I was allowed to attend as an alumni. They told me that because the media had found a loophole, I could attend. I do know that I did not experience that day as you did, but I did learn about it and grow from it. I even earned a scholarship in the name of Randy Gordon and Bryan Zuckor. This event means a lot to me, even though I was only 8, and in another state, when it happened. I have a lot of respect for the school, and the peace council, and if the peace council had asked me to stay away, I would not have attended with my sister who is a student there right now. I'm sorry if I was disrespectful in any way. I see both sides. I just don't believe that the school, the superintendent, or Mr. Schwuchow, deserve any bad rap for this. No one forced Zach to write that letter. No one put those words in his mouth. They came from his heart, as the brother of someone who was there on the day of the shooting, as well as the heart of the peace council and every student at the school.
Alicia Morris March 06, 2011 at 08:38 AM
Zach spoke to them out of politeness, I'm assuming. Just a thought. The media stayed respectful, so he was in return.
Kathy March 06, 2011 at 08:43 AM
Alicia, I am happy you have grown from it and congratulations on your scholarship, I am sure it would of made Randy and Bryan very happy. You are correct, there are always two sides and you show great maturity to acknowledge it. I apologize if I offended you, not my intentions. I acknowledge that I was actually rude to you and I apologize. I am very sensitive and emotional today. You would think that it would get easier with every year that passes, but unfortunately, it does not. I think it is because I still see and hear that bullying still exist and perhaps even more often, then in 2000. It does not matter that you were 8 or living in another state, you have a right to feel your emotions and show your respect. You have a bright future in front of you.
Kathy March 06, 2011 at 08:48 AM
I am going to put my emotions back in check and let this go. Today is about 2 beautiful boys who lost their lives, 13 injured and their families, not about me and my feelings. Thank you Alicia and Delores for pointing that out, it's just a very sad day for me today, as it is for many in the Santee Community.
Alicia Morris March 06, 2011 at 08:53 AM
I can't imagine that it would ever get any easier. I can't imagine what it would be like to have a child at the school on that day. Anyone who went through that day as you did deserves the utmost respect. Thank you very much. And I apologize if I was rude at all as well. Unfortunately, bullying still goes on. I'm proud to say that was very discouraged at Santana in my years there.
Dolores Brown March 06, 2011 at 08:57 AM
I didn't know they spoke to KGTV. Interesting. I don't know Zach that well, but from what I do know of him, he does seem to be one who tries to listen and understand all sides. He's been respectful towards adults and students when I've seen him. Maybe he was trying to be courteous since it's my understanding the reporter was handling things in a dignified manner? As for the mayor being there, I wonder if he and Zach came to an agreement after their letters to each other? Another interesting point! The public memorial today was very touching. Mayor Voepel and all the speakers were wonderful. I briefly met Bryan's mother afterwards. What a strong woman she is. I heard she was there for yesterday's memorial as well.
Kathy March 06, 2011 at 08:59 AM
No need to apologize Alicia, you said what I needed to hear, even if it wasn't what I wanted to hear. You are a very smart young lady, with a big heart. Please take the time to read my article I wrote for the Santee Patch today. It might explain why I am so emotional today. http://santee.patch.com/articles/it-is-a-day-that-will-never-be-forgotten
Dolores Brown March 06, 2011 at 09:15 AM
Kathy, since I was not directly affected by the tragedy of that day, I guess I'm just in more of a neutral position. I can look at both sides and can appreciate the feelings each way. I can't imagine the terror of all those involved, and it breaks my heart that so many were affected. As a parent, I can't imagine a worse fear than what you and others went through that day. You have a right to have your emotions running on high at this time. And the 10th anniversary is big. And it IS also about you. You are just as much a victim as the others. You have emotional wounds. Randy, Bryan, their families, the 13 injured and their families are the major victims in this. But people forget about the remaining victims and they are those who have suffered emotional wounds. Time does not always heal all wounds. My heart goes out to ALL the victims.
Kathy March 06, 2011 at 09:21 AM
Thank you Dolores, I appreciate it but it is no excuse for me to be rude. I do appreciate your support and it did effect everyone, just like you stated in an earlier post, you cried as you listened to it on the news. When I see graduates like Alicia come out of Santana, I know they are trying at Santana to improve. I always loved Santana teachers, they are the best, all three of my kids graduated in the top 10 of their class, and that would not of been possible without great teachers.
Alicia Morris March 06, 2011 at 04:48 PM
Kathy, that is a beautiful piece. I could never imagine having to go through what you did. And I'm very glad that you found your son alive. I know my mom makes sure that she knows how I feel and makes sure I am okay. I'm very glad she does. I wish all parents were like my mom. Thank you for sharing your story. It was great to read.
Joe Spencer March 06, 2011 at 07:52 PM
Dolores: I understand your points as well....and you are right I do not have the complete set of facts to work with. My biggest issue with the whole thing is the fact that the school had a 17 year old "child" act as a spokesperson on such a huge issue and that the school allowed that "child" to speak to the Mayor the way he did in that letter. He was a smart ass in it and completely disrespectful. The issue is not of the students wanting a private ceremony. I can understand and respect that. It's the actions I stated above that I take issue with.
Joe Spencer March 06, 2011 at 07:54 PM
I agree that the student acted with permission of the school. That is what is even more disgusting. Knowing that they proofed that letter and allowed it to go out. That is crazy.
Joe Spencer March 06, 2011 at 08:02 PM
So, by saying you graduated in 2010 I gather you are still a teenager yourself...and I dont mean that rudely...but you do have alot to learn about life still. I kn0w at 40 I think way differently than I did at 19. Especially given the fact that this was a 10 year annivresary of a tragic incident that got national media coverage...it was a given that it would be given more attention. The Mayor spoke out about the ceremony when he heard it was private. He felt slighted and he felt the residents of Santee were slighted.
Joe Spencer March 06, 2011 at 08:08 PM
I don't think anyone on here is trying to be rude or means that in any way. Alicia you said something in this post that sticks out....bullying still goes on. That is exactly why I believe the media plays a huge role in things like this. I think the best way to honor the two students who lost their lives is to bring the problem of bullying to the forefront of things. The media attention of the 10-year anniversary would have been an excellent opportunity for the Peace Builders at the school to bring this issue of bullying still being a problem to the attention of everyone.....ahhhhh but THERE is the problem....Im not sure the school would want that kind of information out there.
Joe Spencer March 06, 2011 at 08:10 PM
Very touching article!!
Alicia Morris March 06, 2011 at 09:58 PM
It was peace week. Why can't the school just have their own memorial to end it in peace? How much more media attention needs to be given to this? The Peace Council was simply trying to avoid a media circus like that of 10 years ago at the event, or of any event like this. Yes, the media does bring a lot of attention, but that doesn't mean they need to be bringing their cameras and reporters and disturbing the peaceful ceremony that the Council was trying to put on to end its annual peace week.
Alicia Morris March 06, 2011 at 10:08 PM
Yes I am a teenager. I think my opinions and views are just as legitimate though. Being a recent graduate, I respect the Peace Council's decision to make it private. I also respect those who may have been offended at this. It was their week; part of something they do every year. No one in Santee has been invited to any other Peace Week events (as far as I know. Correct me if I'm wrong). This was part of Peace Week. Why can't everyone just understand why they wanted it private. Let wound's heal without media interference. I'm quite sure Mrs. Zuckor didn't want cameras in her face at the school's ceremony. Would you want that? I know I wouldn't. It would have gotten media coverage no matter who was invited or not because the media has a way of forcing themselves in anyways. The media got their coverage. The mayor had his ceremony. The Gordon's had theirs (which by the way, can I feel offended because it was private? Same thing as Peace Councils). And Santana had theirs. Lets just drop this. Let the wounds heal. And by the way, Zach Cabading is more intelligence than a lot of adults I know. He is more respectful than most kids his age at Santana. He most definitely is not a smart ass. Sticks and stones my friend. Sticks and stones..
Alicia Morris March 07, 2011 at 12:31 AM
And when I was talking about bullying, I meant as a whole. It happens everywhere, not just at santana. We need to honor their lives, not use their deaths as a lesson.
Dolores Brown March 07, 2011 at 01:00 AM
Bullying is a national problem, not exclusive to Santana. I know from experience Santana nips it in the bud as soon as they are made aware of a situation. When my daughter was a sophomore, there was a student who made a threat against her on youtube. I was in touch with the school as soon as I learned of it, was in the office, and kept in touch with them until it was resolved 2 days later. If it had not been handled in such a manner, I would have kept my daughter out of school until I could have her transferred to another. She was also well protected until the issue was resolved. As for the ceremony, it was a time to honor Bryan, Randy, the families and ALL the other victims. Having the media there to point out that bullying still exists whether it be at Santana or anywhere would detract from the intent of the memorial. Yes, the media should address this issue, but not at a time to honor any of the victims. It should be an ongoing thing. I have witnessed kids bullying at parks, at stores, in parking lots. And yes, I do speak out to them when I see it. Bullying has gone on for decades. My dad told me stories of bullying when he was a child. He is 81 yrs old. Bullying went on when I was in school. I'm 52. Unfortunatey, it is a sad part of life and we can't ignore it. It's not a perfect world, we have to work together to try to make things better. I don't believe the memorial was the time or place to address that issue. It was a time to try to begin a healing process.
Kathy March 07, 2011 at 03:48 AM
I absolutely agree Dolores, it was to remember those involved. Bullying, as you said, has been around since Man and unfortunately, will continue. The best advice I can give, is to teach your children "to treat others, as you would want to be treated". It is time to put this to rest. We all have the right to our own opinion but I just don't want to lose focus on what this day was really about. Alicia, your parents should be very proud of you. You are a very bright and caring woman, and you will be very successful in your life.
Zach Cabading July 29, 2011 at 05:57 AM
Joe: How was I a smart ass exactly? I very respectfully explained our reasons for keeping the ceremony private. Although some may not agree with that decision, I wasn't in any way being a smart ass. Second of all, you must be misinformed in thinking that I alone made all of these decisions. I was speaking not only four our club, but for our school as well. We also spoke to the families of those killed in the shooting, and they also supported our decision to keep the ceremony private. Additionally, they also very much appreciated the ceremony. The reason that we held it on Friday and not that Saturday was to avoid the media that would be present that day, and to give many of the teachers that were there on that day a chance to pay their respects- not every teacher at Santana lives within the Santee city limits. I understand that this incident affected the entire community, but the teachers were affected on an ever greater level as the tragedy also occurred in their own student body. Therefore, we (the school, district, and our club) decided that it was best for our school to have its own memorial, as the school was affected on a more personal level than the community (I do not mean that in any sort of harsh way, but it is the truth).
Zach Cabading July 29, 2011 at 05:57 AM
The community was free to hold a memorial for the community. Just because we decided to keep the memorial private does not mean we didn't invite the mayor. We DID invite him, and he DID attend our memorial. Please don't complain about a student addressing the mayor- it is his job to listen to any comments made by ANY member of the Santee community. I did not speak to him in any smart ass or condescending way. in fact, he enjoyed my letter, and he offered me a position as his intern, an offer that I accepted.
Joe Spencer July 29, 2011 at 06:26 AM
Zach--well I had to reread some of this ,,it's been a few months. But thank you for taking the time to post. When I said you were being a smart ass it was specifcially directed at one of yur remarks: "May we add that the City of Santee had never announced plans or any sort of collaboration with Santana High School until the Mayor received word that he was not invited to our Ceremony. " While that may have been a very true statement...I felt it was out of place for a student to throw what amounted to be a "shot" at the Mayor. I mean you weren't just stating it to state it--you intended it to be a polite way of saying don't complain now when you didnt even ask about doing anything until word got out about our plans. Thats what I felt was inappropriate from a student. As for the argument about wanting it private--you students were no different than most of the public who wanted to be there. You were not students at the school at the time of the tragedy. Heck Seniors were only in second grade at the time. Had this been the first year after or the second when the students who witnessed and experienced this horrible day were still at the school--I totally agree about closing the ceremony then. But the oldest students were second graders--the youngest in pre-school and you make it out like you are different from the general public. I dare say the general public was more affected than 80% of the students currently there.
Zach Cabading July 29, 2011 at 06:23 PM
I do understand where you are coming from, and in hindsight, it probably would have been a better decision to collaborate more with the Santee City Council to hold a more formal public ceremony. At the time, our main interests were keeping the families of the victims from feeling imposed upon by media outlets, and for allowing many of our teachers and faculty that were there that day to pay their respects in a more private atmosphere. We really are appreciative to the community for all of their support though. The ceremony wasn't really for the current students of Santana, but we invited them to come as to help them understand school history and how they could learn from it. It's how we grow from events like that, but I absolutely understand how the community may have felt betrayed by our decision to keep it private. That was not our intention at all, and for anyone else that may be reading this, we apologize if our decision did not seem appreciative of the community.
Joe Spencer July 29, 2011 at 07:33 PM
It all worked out in the end....the feelings from many here were never really directed at you. I think we all felt that with such a huge and sensitive issue it would have been better served having scholl officials do all public comments--including in this instance to the Mayor. Congratulations on your internship btw....great experience there with such a great city and staff!


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