Traffic slowed to a stop Monday evening as a crowd gathered on the corner of Broadway and Campbell. Friends, family and members of the community came together to honor Shannon Collins’ life in the place where she took her last breaths.
Collins, 38, was brutally stabbed to death while walking from a hairdresser’s appointment at 11:52 a.m., May 7. She co-owned Camouflage on Pacific Avenue with her husband, Ken Vinson.
A letter written by Vinson was read aloud to the crowd of at least 100 people.
“Right now, in the present, I am mourning my wife and best friend,” Vinson wrote. “We all know that there are problems with the system, that there is a large transient population in our city, and that Santa Cruz has its issues. But I want to be very clear about one thing: None of these things caused this horrific crime. A single individual did. There are evil people in the world. This crime could have occurred in any city in any state across our union. It is an utter, utter tragedy that this occurred here, and to such a beautiful young woman. But I implore you: Do not blame the system. Do not blame an entire population. And most of all, do not blame Santa Cruz.”
The walk began at 7 p.m. and slowly proceeded over the San Lorenzo bridge, turned right on Pacific Avenue and ended at Camouflage.
The immense weight of grief hung in the air, yet laughter and smiles occasionally peppered the crowd, which was unified by a deep sense of respect and honor for all present — and especially for she who was not.
The walkers made sure to stay peacefully on the sidewalk while police supported them by blocking traffic.
Molly McVeigh, born and raised in Boulder Creek, had been friends and neighbors with Collins for 15 years. Wiping tears from her face and comforting others in the crowd throughout the evening, McVeigh said she knows Collins would want her memory celebrated.
“Shannon was a very integral part of this community, so what happened was much more visible. It’s so surreal,” McVeigh said. “She was such a bright, fantastic woman. She made everyone around her happy.”
Local organization Take Back Santa Cruz (TBSC), whose goal it is to make Santa Cruz a safer community, took leadership of organizing the event and dubbed it “I AM SHANNON.” The purpose was to “walk her spirit back to Camouflage,” according to the organization’s website.
Michael Becker, a board member of TBSC, held a sign during the march that read, “NEVER AGAIN.”
“It’s any community’s worst nightmare to have a member of the community senselessly, brutally murdered in broad daylight,” Becker said. “I can’t imagine anything more horrific, more scary for students, women, business owners, a kid walking to school — anyone, really. We want to make sure this never, never again happens.”
Santa Cruz Police Deputy Chief Steve Clark said this was an isolated event and the response reflects positively on the community.
“This was one event, one individual,” Clark said. “But as you can see from tonight, there’s a lot of healthy energy down here in this community and in this neighborhood.”
Collins’ friend McVeigh, who frequently walks around town alone, said the best thing to do right now is support one another, to restore a sense of safety.
“I think it’s really important for us to not walk around in fear,” McVeigh said. “I walk around everywhere at night, not that anyone will let me do that anymore. But if you do, have pepper spray. Don’t keep it in your purse, keep it in your hand, in your pocket, ready. Be aware of your surroundings. Walk with a friend, set up a buddy system, talk to a friend on the phone.”
Many organizations helped put together and support the event on Monday.
Pat Christie, a chair for the Commission of Prevention Against Violence of Women in Santa Cruz, ushered participants across city intersections.
With an appreciative smile, Christie thanked community members and families for attending the event.
“Shannon’s death is such a tragedy and it’s such a great showing of support from our community,” Christie said. “All ages, all ethnicities have shown up today. It’s a wonderful support that we are going to define our own goals and our own identity.”
Adrian Valentine, assistant manager at Camouflage, said the employees feel crushed in the wake of Collins’ tragedy.
“We just want to interact with people right now,” Valentine said. “It keeps us busy, it keeps us happy, and every time someone buys something, it’s helping Shannon’s memory live on because this business was her life. It was her heart and soul.”