Family and friends described the 23-year-old California college student killed during the Paris attacks as creative, intelligent, playful, ambitious and enthusiastic.
Hundreds gathered Sunday to mourn the death of Nohemi Gonzalez, an industrial design student who was having dinner at a bistro in Paris Friday night when a gunman opened fire, killing her and several others during coordinated terrorist attacks throughout the city. Gonzalez was among 129 killed last Friday.
“Nohemi possessed a character that was truly rare,” said Martin Herman, chairman of the university’s design department to a crowd at the Cal State-Long Beach student union, according to the Los Angeles Times. “What I saw in her was a beautiful soul who practiced goodness and compassion in her friendships and relationships with others. She exuded such energy and enthusiasm and infused the entire department with these same qualities by virtue of her presence.”
Gonzalez was in Paris for the semester to study at the Strate College of Design. It was her first extended trip out of the United States.
“She was so excited to be in Paris,” Martin said, according to People. “May Nohemi’s voice, bright spirit, playfulness, ideals and hope continue to inspire and illuminate the department of design, her university family and all those she touched during her all too short time with us.”
Gonzalez’s mother, Beatriz, said her daughter’s independent character and determination is what led her to carve her own path from a young age. She said her daughter insisted on staying at Whittier High School, which has high academic standards, even after the family was forced to leave the area and move into a nearby mobile home park.
While she was in college, Nohemi Gonzalez worked two jobs in addition to her classwork.
“She used to work all the time,” her mother told the LA Times ahead of the vigil.
In an interview with the Associated Press on Saturday, Beatriz Gonzalez said that her daughter graduated from high school early and couldn't wait to move to a college dorm.
"She was very independent since she was little – since kindergarten. I remember she used to organize everything," she said. "She wanted to have a career and a family."
At the student union, Gonzalez’s boyfriend of nearly four years, Tim Mraz, couldn’t hold back the tears as he spoke. He thanked classmates, friends and the community for their support.
"She was a little firecracker," Mraz said with tears in his eyes. "If you didn't know her, she had a Pocahontas tattoo on her left arm. She always said I was her 'John Smith.'"
Mraz assured the crowd that her spirit will remain at the school she loved.
“She’ll always be with us. She’ll still be roaming these halls, like she always does,” he said. “You’re always in my heart. I love you, baby.”
Nohemi Gonzalez’s step-father Jose Hernandez, who joined Mraz on stage, choked back tears as he spoke.
"Mimi is not dead. Mimi is right here," Hernandez said, while pressing his hand to his heart, according to NBC Los Angeles.
Another vigil is scheduled for Tuesday at Whittier High School, where Gonzalez graduated in 2010.