Members of the Cal Poly community will gather Friday evening to light candles for sociology freshman Giselle Ayala, whose death left many friends and acquaintances recalling memories of a smiling, happy 18-year-old this week.
Ayala, who went missing while partying with friends at the annual spring break party Deltopia this past weekend, was found dead in the surf on Saturday morning. Santa Barbara sheriff’s officials suspect she may have fallen off a cliff when local officers broke up a party she was attending, though an investigation into her death is still ongoing.
Despite the unknown circumstances of her death, Ayala will be remembered as the kind of person who was always smiling, graphic communication freshman Alyssa Wigant said.
The two students lived in Tower 1 of Yosemite Residence Hall and became close friends from the moment they met, Wigant said. Ayala even helped her through a difficult breakup. According to Wigant, Ayala was a great listener — someone Wigant was able to confide in when she felt like she could not talk to anyone else, she said.
The feelings of trust and confidence that Ayala instilled were felt among many other students in her tower, Wigant said. Ayala was one of the people who brought the tower together, and the change in the atmosphere since her death demonstrates the lasting impact she’s had on Yosemite Tower 1.
“She made us feel safe and comfortable,” Wigant said. “We have to find another way to cope with things like that now that she’s gone.”
Ayala’s roommate Deborah Newberry, a computer science freshman, described her as “the sweetest girl,” and the last person to deserve such a tragic ending.
“It was the perfect roommate situation,” Newberry said. “We could be honest with each other and literally talk about everything because we had so much in common.”
The two were not best friends, but they shared a friendly living environment, Newberry said. Ayala had a taste for fashion and would help her roommate pick out clothes, she said. They also often shared long talks that lasted late into the night.
Newberry, though, is still in shock after the sudden tragedy.
“Our room still looks the same,” Newberry said. “Her bed is made and her desk is as neat as usual. It doesn’t seem like anything is off. It’s the type of thing that you just don’t expect to happen to you.”
Ayala was more than just a sweet and caring friend, she was also full of ambition, according to Newberry. If she wanted something, she would strive for it, Newberry said.
Her determination and work ethic was noticed by geography assistant professor Benjamin Timms during fall quarter.
“She was the kind of student you’d like to have in your class,” Timms said. “I’m very sad at the loss of her potential, she was a model student.”
Ayala was one of the top students in Timms’ class and was always very engaged and attentive during lectures, he said.
She was as present with her friends as she was in her classes. There was a certain look on her face which showed how engaged she was with the people she interacted with, Wigant said.
Her loss is felt strongly among the residents of her tower and it is clear that everyone misses her deeply, she said.
“If anyone was able to comfort us about this situation, it would be her,” Wigant said. “And she’s not here.”
A candlelight vigil to remember Ayala will be held at 5:30 p.m. on Friday in the University Union Plaza. It is open to all students, faculty and staff.