Each of the South Orange County Community College District's two main campuses is dealing with the recent tragic death of a beloved student.
Irvine Valley College adult learner Mikel Anthony Williams, 55, became the 10th murder victim in Anaheim on Aug. 30. Newly enrolled Saddleback College student Carlos Salas was skateboarding to his Laguna Niguel home early Sept. 7 when he was struck by a hit-and-run driver and dragged 25 feet. The 20-year-old later died at the hospital.
Williams' death hit IVC particularly hard because his college education had seemed to turn a life already full of tragedy around, according to veteran English professor (and gifted writer) Lisa Alvarez.
"He grew up here in Orange County and has people from all stages of his life who remember him from his youth--and also because of the murders of his mother and his brother," Alvarez tells the Weekly. "His family is from Louisiana and he wrote about them and his experience coming up as an African American kid.
"As my colleague Linda Thomas has pointed out to me, his story is in some ways an American story, an American life, especially these last few years as he tried, mostly successfully, with the help of local institutions, to turn his life around. Those institutions, she said, helped make his life liveable."
He'd come to the college out of Village of Hope, the Tustin shelter run by the Orange County Rescue Mission, and I just discovered Williams and I share Dwight Smith, the tireless homeless advocate at the Catholic Worker in Santa Ana, as a Facebook friend.
Williams knew the streets--and likely many of the pitfalls such a life entails--but since enrolling at IVC he had moved into housing in Irvine, found work and ditched daily bus rides for his own used car.
"We were proud of him, rooting for him," Alvarez relates.
Thomas would arrive to open the campus writing center at 7 a.m. daily and find Williams already there, bright eyed and you-know-what tailed.
"She got to know him quite well," Alvarez says of the teacher and student. "He was well-liked on campus, loved even, and I think he was surprised to find himself respected and valued."
Indeed, things had been "working out well" for Williams, according to Alvarez, who for that reason has been left shaking her head, like so many others on campus.
"I don't know how he got in that alley, stabbed, bleeding to death," says Alvarez of Williams' murder.
Anaheim Police received an anonymous call shortly after midnight Friday, Aug. 30, about a possible burglary in progress in the 800 block of North Zeyn Street, which is near Anaheim Boulevard. Officers arrived to find Williams' body in the east alley. He had been stabbed multiple times. Cops say they saw no signs of a burglary.
Before identifying Williams as the dead man, police revealed Joseph Robert Suess, 37, of Anaheim, had been arrested on suspicion of murder. A motive has yet to be released, leaving those who knew and loved Williams to wonder more about what he was doing there that night.
"I hope he was there trying to help somebody--his goal was to be a probation officer," Alvarez mentions hopefully. Then she considers the other possibility. "I fear he might have been there because his old life called too strongly for him. Maybe a bit of both."
Either option, or even an unexplained third possibility, does not lessen the grief.
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"It pains me to know he must have known what was happening as it happened, a version of his mother's death, his brother's death," Alvarez opines. "He must have been cold, alone."
Services are being held today for Williams in Redlands. Many are still remembering him on his Facebook page. "Love you my brother," writes Art Williams. "The laughs and all night movies and domino games will surely be missed, but not as much as your laughs, smiles, friendship. Rest well, until we share joy again."
On the next page, Irvine Valley College President Glenn R. Roquemore's letter to the campus community, followed by the reaction over at Saddleback to Salas' death.
The body of Carlos Salas was found at 3:48 a.m. Friday, Sept. 7, 400 feet from his home near Golden Lantern and Marina Hills Drive. Family and friends gathered later that same day to mourn around a makeshift memorial. It seemed as if the flowers never would stop coming.
The 20-year-old had been skateboarding from a friend's house when he was hit by a black 1998 Nissan Maxima, dragged 25 feet southbound on Golden Lantern and left to die, according to the Orange County Sheriff's Department, which is still looking for the driver.
A Facebook page has been created for Salas, who has been lavished with friend comments there and on Twitter like, "You will always be in our hearts" (Alexis Salazar), "I cannot believe you are gone" (Danielle Belle) and "Rest in peace to the young soul that was taken" (Clavis Aranda).
"He was the best boyfriend and best friend any girl could ask for," Salas' girlfriend Cathy Gomez reportedly told Saddleback's student newspaper The Lariat. "He was always smiling and made everyone laugh. There wasn't anyone he couldn't put a smile on their face."
The young man, who lived at home with his parents and younger brother and sister, dreamed of becoming a private investigator.