2012 ArtQuest graduate found dead at Santa Barbara beach
Published: Sunday, April 7, 2013 at 3:04 p.m.
Last Modified: Sunday, April 7, 2013 at 9:34 p.m.
The body of a recent Santa Rosa High graduate was found in the surf off a Southern California beach where she was apparently attending a spring break party.
Giselle Esme Ayala, 18, a first year student at California Polytechnic State University in San Luis Obispo, had traveled to the oceanside Isla Vista community for the weekend party, Santa Barbara County Sheriff's officials said.
Ayala and her friends joined between 15,000 and 18,000 people who flocked to the small community of mostly University of California Santa Barbara students for the party, called “Deltopia,” sheriff's spokeswoman Kelly Hoover said.
A jogger spotted Ayala's body in the surf at about 8:20 a.m. Saturday west of a small peninsula called Campus Point, Hoover said.
Authorities have not determined how Ayala died.
“It may be an accident, but we aren't ruling anything out until the investigation is complete,” Hoover said.
Ayala graduated in 2012 from Santa Rosa High's ArtQuest program where she focused on singing.
“Every day she had a smile on her face, she was totally enthusiastic,” said choir director Kira Bombace, who taught Ayala for all four years. “It was always a great day when you saw Giselle in class, and I know a lot of people felt that way.”
Ayala was a second soprano in choir who usually sat next to Emily Rozga, 19, who also went on to study at Cal Poly.
Rozga said that as news spread of Ayala's death, social networking sites were flooded with memories from Ayala's remarkably large group of high school friends.
“She just had a way of connecting with people,” Rozga said.
Ayala was majoring in sociology at Cal Poly, said Keith Humphry, vice president for student affairs.
“It's a very, very sad event when someone as bright and talented as she was passes,” Humphry said.
University officials informed the campus of her death through an email Sunday.
Ayala's family could not immediately be reached.
Ayala's friends told authorities they last saw her at about 11 p.m. Friday, Hoover said.
Coroner's staff could not immediately identify Ayala because she had no form of identification, prompting the Sheriff's Department to ask for the public's help identifying her through a description of her clothing, a purple dress.
It wasn't clear whether that prompted her friends — 20 hours after they apparently last saw her — to come forward at the Isla Vista Foot Patrol Office at 7 p.m. Saturday to report their friend was missing.
Isla Vista is a student community of about 17,000 about 95 miles south of San Luis Obispo in Santa Barbara County.
“On weekends, when outsiders come to party, the population can explode to 30,000 or 40,000,” according to information about Isla Vista on the Santa Barbara County sheriff's website.
A page for the 2013 Deltopia party on Facebook had the tagline: “When California's craziest party town goes its hardest.”
The spring break parties, previously called “Floatopia,” have overwhelmed law enforcement in the past with drunken revelers, injuries and arrests.
This year the community closed the beaches, and people instead held a massive weekend party on the streets. Ayala was found in the surf line of a beach that had been closed, Hoover said.
Humphry with Cal Poly said university officials will be looking into the Isla Vista spring break party.
“We will be learning more about the event to prevent something like this in the future,” Humphry said.
You can reach Staff Writer Julie Johnson at 521-5220 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
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