34 Divers Mourned in ‘Conception’ Ceremony

Thirty-four scuba cylinders lined the stage at
Chase Palm Park Friday evening — one for each life lost aboard the Conception
when it burst into flames on Labor Day. More than 1,000 from Santa Barbara
and beyond gathered at the vigil in the park to mourn the loss of the 34 people
killed in the deadliest disaster in the county’s history.

Photo: Paul WellmanLongtime diver and instructor Don Barthelmess spoke of the love of the ocean shared by divers.

“Our community has faced too many tragedies in
recent times,” said Don Barthelmess, a longtime diver who has taught
recreational and commercial diving at Santa Barbara City College for over three

“All of us in the diving community are bonded by
our love for the ocean,” Barthelmess said. “The dolphin is a symbol for Santa
Barbara. Every time you see one, remember our brothers and sisters who died in
the sea.”

The Santa Barbara County Sheriff’s Coroner’s
Office announced earlier in the day that only 33 of the 34 victims’ bodies have
been recovered — the search for the last person is still ongoing. So far, 22 of
the victim’s identities have been released because their next-of-kin were

At the remembrance vigil, Barthelmess spoke
along with Suzanne Grimmesey, chief strategy officer for County Behavioral
Wellness, and chaplains from the faith community — Rabbi Daniel Brenner, Rev.
Dr. Kate Wiebe, and Very Rev. Fr. Jon-Stephen Hedges.

Grimmesey emphasized the importance of community
grieving throughout the vigil. She brought more than two dozen grief counselors
from the Community Wellness Team, which originally formed in the aftermath of
the Thomas Fire and subsequent 1/9 Debris Flow.

“Everybody grieves differently,” said Lindsey
Milner, a counselor on the team. “Grieving as a community is unique because you
aren’t alone and can be surrounded by people experiencing the same feelings.
Although it’s terrible, the cohesion created from it is something really

Photo: Paul WellmanGlen Fritzler, co-owner of Truth Aquatics (left), gets a hug at the vigil.

Milner and other counselors were deployed
throughout the crowd and available to anyone needing to talk. She said that
some of the first signs of grief are sleep disturbances and extreme
irritability. One of her roles as a counselor, she said, is to normalize those
experiences and create a safe space for community members to feel pain and be
heard and validated.

As the ceremony came to a close, community
members, family members who’d lost loved ones, first responders, and city
officials placed white roses and carnations in baskets at the base of the stage
as an expression of their condolences to the victims and their families.
Grimmesey said the baskets of flowers will be taken to the city’s “lost at
sea” memorial at the breakwater.

“These 34 lights and scuba cylinders
represent our brother and sister divers who did not make it home that night,”
Barthelmess said. “Reach out and hug each other. Listen to each other’s raw

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