Dozens honor SF State student, victims lost in Oakland warehouse fire

A crowd gathers for a memorial in front of the Cesar Chavez Student Center.

A crowd gathers Wednesday, Dec. 14, in front of the Cesar Chavez Student Center for a memorial to honor the victims of the Oakland warehouse fire, including third-year student Michela Gregory.

SF State community honors victims of ‘Ghost Ship’ warehouse fire in Oakland

Dozens gathered in front of San Francisco State University’s Cesar Chavez Student Center Wednesday afternoon to remember the life of 20-year-old student Michela Angelina Gregory and the 35 other victims killed in a massive warehouse fire in Oakland Dec. 2.

Gregory, a third-year student, had attended an event at the “Ghost Ship” warehouse with her boyfriend, Alex Vega, who also died in the fire. Also killed in the blaze were two SF State alumni: Donna Kellogg, who graduated in 2010 with a B.A. in cinema, and Jennifer Mendiola, who graduated in 2003 with a B.A. in psychology.

Gregory was a participant in the Metro College Success Program’s Academy of Child & Adolescent Development. She was majoring in both child development and communicative disorders and hoped to work with children with special needs. Metro program staff members organized the memorial.

“The whole community was just devastated by the loss,” said Priyam Das, a student services coordinator with the Metro program. “Our hearts will be heavy for a long time.”

At least 50 people crowded around a simple memorial that included a photo of the smiling Gregory, flowers, candles and a poster-sized card with handwritten messages from friends and acquaintances. A common theme among those who spoke at Wednesday’s gathering was Gregory’s generous and kind-hearted spirit.

Mary Beth Love, director of the SF State Metro program, encouraged those who gathered in the rain outside the student center to talk about Gregory to ensure her memory is kept alive.

“One of the ways to be with this loss is to talk about what she meant to you and what it means to be that young person who gives,” Love said. “It’s important for her family to know that Gregory’s short life made a difference.”

Ashley Williams, a Metro coordinator, said she remembers the shock and sadness she felt after learning Gregory was among the victims of the tragic fire. “My heart broke for you,” she said, addressing Gregory’s family. Losing such a giving person, she said, is a loss not just for those close to Gregory, but also for the entire community. “We have to continue this work. And there’s so many people who will not let Michela’s work go in vain.”

Love read the following statement from SF State President Les Wong, who was unable to attend: “It is with great sadness that I send my condolences to Michela’s family and friends as they navigate this unimaginable loss. We’ve just learned that another of our alumni, Jennifer Mendiola, also lost her life in the fire. Our thoughts and prayers are with the families and loved ones of our three Gators who perished in this tragic event.”

Among those in the crowd were Gregory’s family members. Her parents tightly clutched a candle as they thanked everyone for keeping their daughter in their hearts.

Gregory’s family has set up a memorial fund to help with expenses.