Under Fire

Woolsey fire and Borderline shooting devastate LA

With close ties to the tragic Borderline shooting and Woolsey Fire in early November, it’s safe to say Amy Doran has had a difficult month.

Doran, who is a longtime friend of Assistant Principal Megan Schooler, and her husband Christopher, an Associate Professor of Religion at Pepperdine, were close family friends of Alaina Housley, a Pepperdine freshman and one of the 13 victims shot at Borderline Bar and Grill on Nov. 7.

They were also forced to evacuate from their home on campus when the fire approached Pepperdine campus, and stayed with Schooler for the following week.

“With the shooting, I did not spend a lot of time on Thursday knowing anything about the fire, since we were with the family all day,” Doran said. “I think I was peripherally aware that there was a fire, and we know it has to come all the way through the canyon to get to us in Malibu, so it’s not usually scary.”

Pepperdine students and staff were asked to evacuate to the cafeteria early Friday morning, but were released around noon. In that time, Doran noted that the tone was “almost like a summer camp,” as students sang songs, chatted, and waited for news on the fire.

Pepperdine University is unique in its “Shelter-In-Place” policy, which instructs students to seek refuge on campus, which was built to withstand wildfires.

Numerous news platforms have cited angered citizens who believe students shouldn’t be “forced” to stay on campus amidst mandatory evacuation, however Doran emphasized that students were “in no way required to stay,” but rather encouraged to in order to avoid gridlock and more affected burn areas.

“My husband and I sheltered in place when we were students here, so we’re pretty comfortable with the process, why it’s safe, and why this would be the best place for us and the students. We kept telling students to calm down, that this was the safest place they could be — there’s food; there’s water; there’s medical, even masks and blankets,” Doran said.

Another evacuation notice was issued around an hour and a half after everyone was initially released, stating that the winds had shifted and instructing Pepperdine residents to come back to the cafeteria, according to Duran.

Doran and her husband had time earlier in the day to pack clothes, medication, even bedding and pet food; they decided to keep their cat home, expecting the fire threat to dissipate and allow them to quickly return home. However, with spotty fire updates and the “trauma” from the shooting, they decided instead to leave campus to stay at Schooler’s home in Brentwood.

“Given what had just happened with Alaina, we didn’t have the mental space to deal with uncertainty,” Doran said. “By the time we left, Malibu had been evacuated for hours, PCH was only open one way, and we were just driving through a ghost town.”

The couple attempted to drive through campus to rescue their cat, however with fire already on campus “burning over the hills toward the law school,” they were forced to turn back.

“As we were driving on campus at midnight, we realized that there were no fire trucks, even though there was fire coming down the hills. So that was scary, since we knew that there was something going on, but we didn’t see anybody there helping,” Doran said.

The day after arriving at Schooler’s home, Pepperdine again released its students and staff; even so, Pacific Coast Highway was still closed, leaving the couple with Schooler until the roads were opened the following Friday. This time allowed the couple to settle down, have a friend check on their cat and slightly-singed backyard, and finally find time to process not only the fire’s impact, but also the loss of Housley.

“My husband and I went to school with Alaina’s parents here at Pepperdine. They were our first group of friends to be married, our first group of friends to have kids, so we’ve known Alaina throughout the course of her life,” Doran said.

Doran and her husband also host a weekly Bible study and dinner for about a dozen Pepperdine students; Alaina, part of that group, attended dinner before leaving to meet her friends at Borderline on Nov. 7.

“She was telling everyone ‘My suitemates are going to the Borderline, I’m thinking about going, what do you guys think?’ I’d never been there but I’d heard a lot of kids talk about it, so we just said ‘Yeah, go have fun,’ Doran said.

Around midnight, Doran received a message from one of the Bible group members, which held a news article with live updates about the shooting.

“The student and I started trying to figure out who we could contact that was there with her, and we found out that there were about 16 students there, and that Alaina was the only one they couldn’t find,” Doran said. “That’s a real punch in the gut, but I was still going through all the stages of denial. You go through all the iterations of why you can’t find her, why she’s not lying on the dance floor.”

She soon woke up her husband and called Alaina’s parents, who said that Alaina’s Apple Watch placed her location still inside the bar. After staying up all night and into Thursday morning, scanning the news, Alaina’s parents flew in from their home in Napa Valley, and the Dorans drove out to meet them at the family reunification center.

“We’re driving to Moorpark, we’re almost there, and I texted Hannah ‘We’re five minutes away. I’ll see you guys soon.’ And the response I got was ‘She’s with Him in Heaven now.’ And I just had all the wind knocked out of me,” Doran said.

Pulling up to the center, Doran recalled how she had to wait for Alaina’s parents, Arik and Hannah, to come outside due to the families, police officers, and media representatives crowded in and outside of the building.

“So [Hannah] came out, and from there it was just ‘I’m sorry, I didn’t take care of your baby. I promised you I would take care of her,’” Doran said. “Just being with people that you love so much, and watching them hurt, is so gut-wrenching, so beyond the realm of what I thought my brain could even process.”

Tying in the grief of her family, friends, and community at Pepperdine, Doran stressed that although the fire was devastating for thousands of families, to her it felt more like “an inconvenience” due to its impediment in everyone’s ability to grieve.

“Because students were scattered and didn’t get to feel that loss and support each other as a community, they went home to figure it out themselves, how to deal with it. That’s not enough. We’re meant to be with other people, we’re meant to love each other,” Doran said. “We’re meant to spend time together and help each other through things. So they’re coming back now, and they’re finally together, and they’re all finally able to hug and cry and miss her, and yet normal life has to go on.”