It had been nearly twelve hours of anxiety and fear and cautious hope when, finally, they told Michael Morisette that his daughter Kristina was dead.
“We were the last,” he tells PEOPLE through tears.
Michael and his family had gathered around 3 a.m. Thursday at the information center awaiting word of Kristina’s fate.
Hours earlier, he and wife Martha Morisette awoke to a pounding on their front door: It was Kristina’s best friend from down the street. There’d been a mass shooting at the Borderline Bar & Grill, where Kristina had worked for a year. Soon, others were reaching out, their worry rising. Michael’s mother-in-law called. His older daughter, Kristina’s big sister, began checking local hospitals by phone from out of state. Another couple came to their door.
“It was the parents of [Kristina’s] other best friend who lived down the street, around the block, and they wanted to know if they could help and we didn’t even know what was going on,” Michael says.
He texted Kristina at 1:45 a.m., but no answer. Getting to the Borderline itself was also impossible because of the police response.
No one could reach her.
When the Morisette family arrived at the information center for the victims’ families, they were told to wait. As he sat quietly, Michael began to observe the sheriff making his way around the room, breaking the news to nearly a dozen other families that their loved ones had been killed on Wednesday night.
About 12:30 p.m., the sheriff came for them.
“That made it harder, but it’s just the way it worked out I guess,” he says. “It made it hard to watch everyone go through and sit through the pain and agony.”
All morning Michael had thought Kristina was maybe still alive, somehow, somewhere. Maybe she left her phone in the scrum of the escape, slipping out of a shattered window at the bar and huddling with others for safety. Maybe she was still being interviewed as a witness. Maybe.
“What I hoped for was that she would walk through the door,” he tells PEOPLE. “I hoped that she was at a hospital and they just didn’t know who she was.”
Night turned to day without word of what happened to his daughter.
“As the number of unconfirmed bodies got smaller and smaller, my hope kind of got smaller and smaller,” Michael says, “but there was always that little bit of hope left that they would say, ‘Hey we already identified the bodies, but none of them are your daughter.’ “
Kristina never came home. She was one of 12 people killed when a gunman opened fire in the busy Borderline Bar in Thousand Oaks, California, just before 11:30 p.m. on Wednesday.
At 20 years old, she was one of the youngest victims. According to her father, she was one of the first people shot.
Kristina was working the door that night, greeting patrons and checking IDs, when a 28-year-old Marine Corps veteran began firing. Michael says the sheriff told him his daughter died quickly, painlessly, without struggle — a fact that brings him some small comfort.
His family left the information center around 2 p.m. on Thursday. Just one day earlier, he had said his usual goodbye to Kristina as she headed off to her night shift at the bar. The pair had spent the morning together after Michael picked Kristina up from her flight home from Austin, Texas. She’d been visiting friends there that she first met through the Borderline. She’d planned and paid for the trip on her own.
After Michael picked her up, they stopped on the drive home for breakfast at Denny’s so he could her about her adventures. Over their plates of pancake and eggs, Kristina excitedly shared pictures and videos of her line-dancing and sightseeing with her friends.
“She was so happy,” he recalls. “She had so many good memories of that trip, and I really felt like she brought home souvenirs and memories and I knew that she was going to use that as part of becoming who she is.”
Kristina had also gone to learn more about an Austin-area school for those who want to train service dogs. “That could have been an opportunity for her future. … If there was a goal, that was it, and it was cut short,” her dad says.
“She did want to have a family and have kids of her own someday,” he continues.
And then he begins to cry.
‘We Don’t Want Her Memories to End’
Before Kristina was an employee of the Borderline, she was a patron, led into a love of country music by her sister, now 26, whom she always looked up to.
A successful student, Kristina was a gymnast in high school and then a cheerleader. “All the way through school, through cheerleading, through her jobs, it was all about her friends, all about doing the things she wanted to do with them,” Michael says.
With her warm smile, Kristina was a natural working the door at Borderline. Her father had his reservations about the job, with its late hours and adjacency to drinking, but she had her own goals. “She was a little stubborn and would do things her way, and it turned out to be an asset because she reached further than I would allow her to reach,” he says.
Her personality made her a standout at the bar.
“Every time I walked in there she was there, always had a smile on her face,” says Borderline regular Bryce Viole, 19, who survived the shooting. “She was probably one of the nicest people I’ve met.”
Michael says that Kristina wasn’t always working the door, “but that night she was, and it kind of reflects her. She didn’t pick a job in a storeroom where she was alone. She picked a job where she in the light, the focus.”
He wants the world to know about his daughter. What she meant and still means.
“We didn’t want her life to end,” her mom, Martha, told the Los Angeles Times. “But we don’t want her memories now to end, either.”
“She was part of that community, she was part of that group of people,” Michael says, “and it’s just that that’s where she was and that was her life and those were her friends.”
Kristina “went as fast as she could to get places that she wanted to go,” Michael says. “She didn’t delay. … She didn’t look for the negative.
“Carry that in your heart.”
• With reporting by CHRISTINE PELISEK
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