Mayor’s Message: Remembering Those Missing From Our Community

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Newport Beach mourns those killed in a helicopter crash on Sunday, (top row, left to right): Kobe Bryant, Gianna Bryant, Ara Zobayan, Christina Mauser; (bottom row, l-r) Sarah and Payton Chester, Alyssa Altobelli, Keri Altobelli, and John Altobelli.
— Photo credit: clockwise: tinseltown/shutterstock.com; tinseltown/shutterstock.com; courtesy Long Beach Airport; courtesy Mauser family; courtesy OCC; from facebook of Keri Altobelli; from facebook of Keri Altobelli; courtesy of Todd Schmidt

This Message — like so many lives — changed dramatically when we lost eight community members in a tragic helicopter accident. Three families in our community lost mothers and daughters, two families lost fathers and we all lost neighbors and friends. They were coaches, players, volunteers, competitors. They were family.

We are still grieving the losses suffered by the Altobelli, Bryant, Chester, and Mauser families. There are no adequate words to express the devastation and sorrow felt by their surviving families and friends. Presence, though, can make up for words’ failings.

Our community’s responses have been lights shining through the darkness. Within hours, Newport Coast neighbors formed an organic vigil at a park attended by hundreds of people bearing their own candles, flowers, balloons, and memories.

Harbor Day School rallied together multiple times last week to communally mourn losing a fellow student, a coach, a wife of a teacher, and a patriarch of their lost student. Head of School Angi Evans’ steadfast leadership in this maelstrom engulfing her school has been beyond commendation.

Ensign Intermediate’s Principal, Michael Sciacca, led a moving and somber assembly this past week as well. Classmates of Alyssa Altobelli spoke, sang, and cried while recounting her role in their lives. Our police chief, fire chief, and I stood below Alyssa’s retired basketball jersey. We were also joined by lifeguards who instructed both Payton Chester and Alyssa as Junior Lifeguards.

Later that night, nearly a thousand people gathered at Mariners Park in a community-led vigil where classmates again remembered Alyssa through tears and smiles. As the sky turned from clear blue to a striking Newport Beach sunset, those gathered lit candles and mourned collectively.

Mayor Will O’Neill talks during the vigil at Newport Ridge Park.
— Photo by Charles Weinberg ©

Each City Council member started our recent meeting by reading a short statement about each person lost. Councilman Kevin Muldoon gave a message to Gianna Bryant’s friends and classmates: “Do not despair or be afraid. Everything is in God’s hands, even the ball.”

We held a moment of silence afterward.

Newport Harbor and CdM high schools were set to play a critical Battle of the Bay boys’ basketball game last week. Before tipoff, Principals Kathy Scott and Sean Boulton took to the court and talked about being one community in joy and in sorrow and held a moment of silence as well. A pin drop could be heard in a gym blasting with energy just minutes before.

There have been more events than listed in this Message and there will be more to come. The last word for now belongs to Kobe Bryant, who wrote a book two years ago in which he said: “I went from watching what was there to watching for what was missing and should have been there. I went from watching what happened to what could have and should have happened.”

We are too painfully aware of what is missing, what could have and should have happened. Be present, be loving, and be the light in this darkness.

Will O’Neill
Mayor, Council Member
District 7

Will O’Neill joined Newport Beach City Council in 2016. Reach him at [email protected]

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