Three Cal alumni killed in recent American tragedies

Emma Hall , Managing Editor


In the past seven weeks, Cal High alumni were faced with a staggering tragedy with the loss of three former students who were killed in two separate American tragedies.

Cal alumni Christina Hanson (Class of 2008) died on Oct. 11 in the Northern California wildfires, while Stacee Etcheber (’85) and Denise Cohen (’77) were killed during the largest mass shooting in modern American history on Oct. 2 when Stephen Paddock killed 58 people and injured hundreds more at a country music festival in Las Vegas. 

Alumnus Vivek Jayaraman,  who went to Cal and later transferred to and graduated from Dougherty Valley High in 2013, was also injured in the Las Vegas shooting and is recovering, said support services teacher Vinita Battu.

Hanson, 27, had her life cut short on Oct. 11, when the deadliest wildfires in California history burned 122,000 acres in Napa and Sonoma counties, killing 42 people and destroying nearly 9,000 homes, businesses and other structures, according to the San Francisco Chronicle.

The loss of these three alumni in the span of a week struck Cal alumni and staff with grief.  

“She [Hanson] was the most compassionate woman I have ever met,” said counselor Katherine Richards, who was close to Hanson. “Whenever I saw her in the hallway she would always call my name and gave me the biggest hug. She couldn’t stand someone having a bad day.”

Hanson was a diligent volunteer for Primrose Inc, a Santa Rosa living center for people with Alzheimer’s disease and Dementia, where she assisted residents in their daily lives. 

Hanson was born with spinal bifida, a disorder in which the spinal cord fails to develop, and she has been wheelchair bound since birth. 

Richards said Hanson never let her disorder get her down. Richards and other teachers remember Hanson as strong-willed, loving, and caring. 

“Christina was a kind and positive student,” teacher Shanin McKavish said. “She entered the room with a bright smile that would light up the classroom.”

Hanson’s family has set up a memorial fund on and is currently accepting donations with a goal of $10,000. Etcheber and Cohen’s families have set up GoFundMe campaigns in their honor as well. 

Etcheber, 50, and Cohen, 58, were among the hundreds of people shot around midnight when Paddock opened fire from his hotel room on the 32nd floor of the nearby Mandalay Bay hotel along the Las Vegas strip.

Etcheber was a mother of two, a hairstylist and the wife of San Francisco police officer Vinnie Etcheber, who attended the concert with her. 

The death of Etcheber has deeply impacted her hometown of Novato in Marin County. 

According to The New York Times, orange ribbons were tied around trees in Novato in memory of Etcheber. Orange was Etcheber’s favorite color.

Her daughter’s soccer team also wore orange ribbons and armbands with Etcheber’s initials on them. Etcheber will be remembered as spirited, outgoing and devoted woman.

“Stacee was a moving ball of energy in anything she did,” former teacher Mike Trunnell, who taught at Cal for 27 years and was close to Etcheber, wrote in an email. “She would come through the door with a burst and a smile.” 

Cohen  was a mother of two, an active church goer, and a property manager in Santa Barbara. She and her boyfriend, Derrick Taylor, had been planning their trip to Las Vegas for weeks. Taylor was also killed that night. 

Cohen was also planning to attend her Cal class reunion the week after the concert, and will be remembered by her loved ones as a kind-hearted, strong and genuine individual. 

“She was amazing, vibrant, positive classmate, and friend,” wrote alumni Tina Lippis-Mancebo (Class of ‘77) on the alumni association Facebook page. “She will be missed.”

The day after the attack in Vegas, Cal alumni Teri Ryan (Class of ’89) left bouquets of flowers on the Cal memorial sign in front of the school for Etcheber and Cohen. 

Photos of the flowers were posted on a Facebook alumni group shortly after they were left by administrator of the page, Chris Lee (Class of ’89).

“I felt absolutely helpless when I first heard the news of their passing,” Ryan wrote in an email. “All I could think about was their families and the devastation they were feeling. I still think about them every day.”

Jayaraman was shot in his femur and has been undergoing physical therapy treatments, Battu said. He is experiencing a speedy recovery and is progressing in home acute rehab.

Although Etcheber, Cohen and Hanson are no longer with Cal alumni and staff, they will be remembered by their positivity and love that they offered their communities.

“I was happy that I was able to honor them on behalf of all alumni,” wrote Ryan. “It was a touching moment.”