The day began as an idyllic Sunday in Calabasas, the suburbs of Los Angeles. The weather was crisp and a low fog hung in the air, obscuring the tops of the Santa Monica mountains. Around 10:00 a.m., neighbors began texting each other, “Is anyone else seeing the smoke billowing from the valley near Las Virgenes Road and Mulholland Drive?” In a community that was recently ravaged by wildfires, many braced for evacuation. But in the minutes and hours that followed, they realized that something far more tragic had happened — a helicopter had crashed in the mountains and NBA legend Kobe Bryant was on board.
By 1 p.m., the news of Bryant’s tragic death was confirmed, and compounded by new information that his 13-year-old daughter Gianna was also on board. They were on their way to the nearby suburb of Thousand Oaks for Gianna’s basketball game. While no confirmations have been provided about the other fatalities, neighbors are speculating that they include other members of Gianna’s team and their parents.
As details of the tragedy started to emerge, chaos erupted in the usually sleepy Calabasas neighborhood. Firefighters and other first responders rushed to the scene, where smoke from the crash continued to billow for hours. The news media descended and roads were blocked. And people started gathering. At first in the streets, neighbors emerging from their homes with shocked expressions on their faces, and then transitioning to a more organized vigil in De Anza Park, about a quarter of a mile from the crash site.
At the park around 5:00 p.m., faces are a mix of shock and weeping. Neighbors hug each other, some wearing Lakers jerseys. The sound of helicopters directly overhead is deafening. Smoke is still visible rising up between the mountains, indicating that the crash site has not yet been cleared.
Just before 6:00 p.m., fire chief Darrell Osby of the Los Angeles County Fire Department held a press conference on the steps of the Lost Hills Sheriff’s station. According to him, there were nine fatalities, and no survivors.
Before leaving the podium, the sheriff slammed TMZ for breaking the news of Kobe’s death before his family could be informed, “There are wide speculations about who the identities are, however, it would be entirely inappropriate to identify anyone by name until the coroner has made the identification and they’ve made the notification to the next of kin. It would be extremely disrespectful to understand your loved one has perished, and you learn about it from TMZ.”
At this point, it is all but confirmed that Kobe and Gianna are dead. It’s hard to imagine the grief his family is dealing with. But an entire community is lifting them up in prayer.