On February 1, 2020 Aisha (A-sha) Horley (LLHS ‘19) passed away while on campus at Humboldt University. Her unexpected death was later announced as a suicide. She struggled with depression and anxiety starting in eighth grade and continuing into her Freshman year at Humboldt. The impact she had on our community was hidden. She was quiet and introspective; however, the way she touched lives all over Las Lomas and Walnut Creek was anything but small.
“She was someone I looked up to in the dance studio because she [put] so much expression into the smallest of movements. She was a mom [in] how she… [looked] out for me…She could move mountains if she wanted to. She cared, and she would listen. It’s hard to find someone like her; she’s rare,” said Junior Sophia Margiotta while capturing Aisha’s magnetic, genuine presence. Her parents, Ed and Christine Horley shared that she danced for 12 years and even though she typically hated attention, dancing was the one place she didn’t mind the spotlight, “She did dance solos and she could be the center of attention because she didn’t notice the audience while she was dancing”.
Aisha’s old Journalism teacher, Ms. Gunnison remembers Aisha being one of the only students who cared about how her articles were edited: “Everything she created was so careful and…a little magical.” When her daughter joined the same dance studio as Aisha, Ms. Gunnison got a chance to watch her dance, “[It] was exhilarating. She was so elegant and fluid, and I loved watching her do this thing that she poured so much of herself into.”
Aisha not only danced; she also took pictures, painted, and drew. More than anything else, however, she expressed herself in music. According to Senior Sammy Carlota, “When I think of Aisha, I immediately think of music. From doing band in elementary school and going to concerts together, music always surrounded her and it’s something I truly admired about her.”
Her previous teachers speak of her intelligence in class. Mr. Cautero recalls her as kind, delightful, and quiet, “There was softness to her. When she spoke, her words mattered, and people listened. She wanted to accomplish what she set out to accomplish. She was an excellent writer even when she started in ninth grade, she was one of my top students.” According to Lisa Levinthal, Aisha’s fifth grade teacher, “Her imagination was so refreshing; I still have a note she wrote to me, from the point of view of Luna Lovegood, in which I am given a wand (a small tree branch) and told to ‘Use it well.’ I will continue to treasure this sweet memory of Aisha, as I always think of her whenever I read Harry Potter to my class.”
Quinn McMillian also attested to that love: “She would be there for me with flowers when she watched my musical performances, and when I graduated from WCI. She was there for me when I went through relationships and breakups, made mistakes, and got hurt. Aisha was more than a friend to me; she was my sister. Aisha was beautiful, crazy smart, and a wonderful friend. I will never forget her love and endless support.” This common theme of who Aisha was, shows up in every person impacted by her. Aisha’s empathic ability to be open and sincere drew people to her.
She was also passionate about the environment. She got her clothes from thrift stores and did her best to eliminate single use plastics. Ms. Horley laughs while sharing how she was a vegetarian since fifth grade, but her favorite foods were Taco Bell (vegetarian menu), and ice cream. Her passion for the environment contributed to her deep love for nature. Mr. Horley spoke about her love of sunsets. “My memories are of my kid coming home after sunset with muddy shoes — leaving them by the front door — because that’s what she did.” On top of Aisha’s very “distinct sense of humour,” she was also incredibly stubborn, and left handed (which she got from her dad).
Aisha was always genuine about what she struggled with, and a lot of that comes from her parents who feel there is no shame in struggling with mental health. They agree it should be spoken about as freely as talking about a cold, or the flu. As Aisha went through high school, she had good days and bad days like every other student. She was distinct in how she shared her story to create an environment where others could share theirs. Aisha cared for people in the fiercest ways. She was the embodiment of the aphorism: ‘be kind, for everyone you know is fighting a battle you know nothing about.’ As her own personal battles increased, she displayed strength in every way. “Our kid tried to do all the right things and she reached out to people… [She] was seeing therapists, and sought help.” As time went on, Aisha kept fighting, as did her parents. “She suffered through a lot for a long period of time. It wasn’t easy to watch your kid go through all of that.” Mr.Horley said.
Ed and Christine Horley allowed an interview for this article for the greater benefit of Las Lomas students. “We loved our daughter, and a lot of people in the community loved her. We want to share her with everyone.” Both said that is was important to them to be open about Aisha. They want awareness regarding mental health struggles to improve. “Our main message would be that if you feel like you’re struggling, reach out. This community has a lot of resources for people, but sometimes you need to reach for them. If you see a friend who is suffering or seems to be struggling, encourage them to get help.” Although big moments hold significance, both parents agree that the little parts had equal, if not greater, value “It’s really all the small moments in life, I guess, that you remember about your kids. I don’t think it’s any of the big stuff; it’s just the day to day normal things.”