‘State of shock’: Stockton mourns five family members among 33 killed in dive boat blaze

The five family members died together Monday off the Santa Barbara coast. On Wednesday, Stockton mourned them.

Angela Rose Quitasol was the cool teacher – and a good one. Middle school science teacher by day, roller derby queen by night, her passion was teaching. NicoleStorm Quitasol, whose love of fitness and adventure inspired others. Eldest daughter Evanmichael, the nurse who followed in father Michael Quitasol’s footsteps at Stockton’s St. Joseph’s Medical Center; their commitment to healing shared by Michael’s current wife, Fernisa Sison, a former nurse.

Condolences and remembrances on social media and elsewhere on Wednesday overwhelmed the grieving family of the five with Stockton roots, claimed early Labor Day morning in a horrific boat fire off Santa Barbara.

Last weekend was to be Michael Quitasol’s dream birthday – a weekend-long scuba diving excursion.

Californians awoke early Monday to news accounts of the deadly scene off the shore of Santa Cruz Island. The 75-foot dive boat Conception was fully engulfed as dozens of passengers slept below decks.

“It is with a broken heart,” the Quitasols’ mother, Susana Solano Rojas, began in a Facebook post Monday morning, “... 3 of our daughters were on this boat. As of now they are still missing. My #1, Evanmichel Solano Quitasol, my #3, NicoleStorm Quitasol and my #4, Angela Rose Quitasol. My girls’ dad Michael Storm Quitasol and step mom were also on the boat.”

The Coast Guard would recover 33 bodies. The Quitasols and Sison were among them.

“We talk about the six degrees of separation here. Here in Stockton, it’s just this web. You know the people or somebody who knows them,” Paul Kimball said Wednesday. “St. Joe’s is a central place here in town, so the different communities are in a state of shock and remembrance.”

Kimball is choir director at Stockton’s Lincoln High School and Sierra Middle School, where Angela taught seventh grade science. He also taught Angela when she was a student at Lincoln.

Just weeks ago, on Aug. 11, Kimball’s former student returned to his class. She was preparing to sing for her sister’s wedding just days away – “Thinking Out Loud” by Ed Sheeran, accompanied only by her ukulele – but she first wanted a dress rehearsal. She was nervous and asked for an audience.

“She tried it out on our eighth-grade choir. The kids loved it,” Kimball said. “We had that moment – it went full circle singing for the people she would’ve had in her class.”

On the track for the Stockton roller derby team, the Port City Roller Girls, Angela skated under the name “Hermoine Danger.” On Wednesday, her teammates unspooled a series of posts on its Facebook page remembering their comrade: “A determined young woman that had a way of making you feel like you could reach the stars. In fact, she would help lift you to them if you needed a boost,” the team posted.

Now, she’s gone.

“I’m 56, by this time there are people you know who have passed, but this one struck such a chord with myself and the people who knew her better. In that moment, you’re in that super sad, super wounded mode, but we’re teachers and we have a job to do,” Kimball said. “I did three choirs today and there are students who had had Angela, so we talked about that. We showed photos and talked. I’ll go to Sierra in a while and we’ll really talk about it there.”

Angela Quitasol’s impact was deeply felt at Sierra. She was dynamic in the classroom, active in her union, the Lincoln Unified Teachers Association. Teaching, too, was part of the family bloodline. Father Michael also taught in the Stockton Unified School District. Evanmichael and Michael often stood alongside teachers on the picket lines, union officials said.

At Sierra, “she’s the cool teacher and the good teacher. There are cool teachers who aren’t good teachers. She’s both. She’s hip, her hair is in various colors. The high schoolers had a lot of good things to say – and tears,” Kimball said. “They’re going to remember her as a sincere human being. That’s Angela. She’s not pretentious. She really listens to you. She really has something to say.”

“Angela’s passion, light, and love filled every space she entered,” union president Tiffany Fuhrmeister said Wednesday in a joint statement with California Teachers Association President E. Toby Boyd.

“Angela Rose Quitasol’s deepest passion in life was teaching. Her first priority was always to make sure her students felt safe and intensely loved,” Fuhrmeister said. “She believed it was her role as a teacher of science to bring life and joy to a subject that students often feel is difficult.... We all have a little piece of her light within us.“

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Darrell Smith covers courts and California news for The Sacramento Bee. He joined The Bee in 2006 and previously worked at newspapers in Palm Springs, Colorado Springs, Colo., and Marysville. A Sacramento Valley native, Smith was born and raised at Beale Air Force Base, near Marysville.