SAN JOSE -- If there is one thing people will remember about George Chen, 19, it would be his smile.
The beaming grin that showed his persistently positive nature was a highlight in every story told about Chen at a candlelight vigil Thursday night at Leland High School, where he graduated in 2012.
Hundreds of students, friends and teachers and parents held candles as they paid tribute to a Chen, a UC Santa Barbara sophomore who was stabbed to death while visiting friends who shared an Isla Vista apartment with Elliot Rodger. Rodger also killed Chen's two friends and three other students, all in their early 20s, before killing himself. An additional 13 people were injured.
"He was my everything," said Chen's mother, Kelly Wang, trying to hold back tears that wouldn't stop. "He was my whole world."
Chen was one of the first three people killed May 23 in the bloody rampage in the small college community.
Chen's father, Junan Chen, told those gathered that his son was in the wrong place at the wrong time. George Chen was visiting his friends, Cheng Yuan "James" Hong, 20, also of San Jose, and Weihan "David" Wang, 20, of Fremont when Rodger began his deadly attacks. The three victims had been friends since the start of their freshman year at UCSB, bonding over a shared interest in computer science and engineering.
Junan Chen said he watched the scene in Isla Vista as it unfolded on the news the night of the killings, but because his son lived in a campus dorm, he figured he was safe from harm.
He called his son anyway, but he didn't pick up, which was out of the ordinary. When Chen's parents called again on Saturday, their son still did not pick up. Though they remained mostly unconcerned, Junan Chen said, when a Santa Barbara sheriff's deputy arrived at their home Saturday night, "things changed forever."
"He was a good boy, a good, good boy," family friend Joseph Lin said. "The family will never, never, never fully recover."
When Junan Chen visited his son's dormitory this week to collect his personal belongings, he found his son's laptop on, a half-completed computer project still on the screen. His son's cell phone was still plugged in, charging. It was as if life had simply been suspended, he added.
Both Junan Chen and his wife offered condolences to Rodger's family, understanding that they were also going through a difficult time. But they said they are determined to be among the last families to suffer through the tragedy of a mass shooting, asking what needed to be done to somehow end the violence.
"I would die 100 times, 1,000 times, if it would keep our kids from getting hurt," Wang said. "I don't want to stand here, talking to you. If my son could come back, I wouldn't have to. Every parent should do something."
Follow Katie Nelson at Twitter.com/katienelson210.