The mother of a 23-year-old California college student killed in the Paris terrorist attacks said her daughter was an independent young woman who loved school.
Nohemi Gonzalez, a senior studying design at California State University, Long Beach, was at a Paris restaurant with fellow students when she was fatally shot Friday.
Her mother, Beatriz Gonzalez, said Saturday that Nohemi graduated high school early and couldn't wait to move to the dorms at college.
"She was very independent since she was little. Since kindergarten. I remember she used to organize everything," Beatriz Gonzalez said. "She wanted to have a career and a family."
Nohemi Gonzalez was taking part in an exchange program at the Strate College of Design in France.
Her stepfather, Jose Hernandez, said as the news in Paris broke, he began receiving panicked texts from Nohemi's boyfriend in California, who said he couldn't get in touch with her.
"I replied and I said, 'well don't worry it's OK.' I tried to calm him down," Hernandez said at the Los Angeles County barbershop where he works.
But then the FBI arrived at their door and their worst fears were confirmed.
One of her Long Beach schoolmates in Paris saw Gonzalez get shot, but she was able to escape from Le Petit Cambodge restaurant. She told school officials she saw Gonzalez carried away on a stretcher.
"I and the entire campus are heartbroken to share this terrible news," said Jane Close Conoley, president of the university.
Design professor Michael LaForte said Gonzalez stood out in the tight-knit department.
"Nohemi was something of a star in our department," LaForte said. "She was a shining star, and she brought joy, happiness, laughter to everybody she worked with and her students, her classmates. She functioned like a bit of a mentor to younger students."
Michael Herman, the chair of the school's design department, told KPCC that Gonzalez made an impression in a variety of ways, starting with how to pronounce her first name.
“She had a very endearing way of letting everybody know (how to pronounce her name). She was just say 'No Emmy for me, I’m a terrible actress. I get No Emmy,' so that’s how we remember. "That says a lot about her spirit, her playfulness, her charm."
Herman remembers Gonzalez as a compassionate person who was focused on making things that would help people, which is what led her into the world of industrial design. Unlike many students, Herman said, Gonzalez wanted to be a designer from the moment she started school. That kind of driven nature eventually led her and her team to prestige in the Biomimicry Global Design Challenge.
“She and her colleagues designed a project called Polli Snak, and what it was was a 100 percent biodegradable snack pack that was filled with what you would expect - nuts, dried fruits - but it also came with dehydrated expandable soil and seeds, so the user could basically cultivate a plant after being done with the snack," Herman said. "You could even plant it. They actually won second place in international competition.”
“This was the kind of person she was," he said. "This is what really animated her in her design.”
One of Herman's lasting memories is a conversation they had on a trip to Mattel, when Gonzalez was serving as a student assistant.
"Something in her really shone through during that conversation ... what it was was a kind of childlike wonder and openness to things. I don’t mean childishness or naivete, it wasn’t that," he said. "She had this ability to look at the world in that way, which all of us as creative artists really strive for that and we want to hold on to that. But for her, it was just so natural and so much a part of her character."
"It’s such a devastating hole in our hearts for this to have happened," he said.
The university was notified of her death by French school officials and confirmed the death with her parents, spokesman Michael Uhlenkamp said.
The family said the FBI informed them it could be weeks before the body is returned to the U.S. because of the ongoing investigation.
Politicians and state university officials sent statements expressing their sadness and offering condolences to Gonzalez's family.
Gov. Jerry Brown said flags would be flown at half-staff at the Capitol for victims of the terror attacks that killed at least 129 people.
The university said 17 of its students were studying in France this semester and the other 16 students were safe.
Gonzalez lived in the Los Angeles suburb of El Monte.