2016 Malibu High School grad’s first article appears in national publication

Writer and Malibu native Nancy Walecki shows off her article in Cosmopolitan about the cumulative trauma experienced by students affected by the Borderline mass shooting and Woolsey Fire in 2020. 

As a little girl growing up in Malibu, Nancy Walecki was often called “the little girl with the big voice.” She earned the nickname due to her impressive singing ability that was often heard at Webster Elementary talent shows and as a standout member of the award-winning Malibu High School choir that performed at prestigious Carnegie Hall in 2014. Now just out of college Walecki has found her voice as a writer with her first national magazine feature published in this October’s issue of Cosmopolitan.

“Cosmo,” as it’s known, is a young women’s empowerment publication with 61 million readers typically known for sex tips and dating advice, but Walecki’s piece focuses on a serious topic that affects many young millennials and Gen-Z’s. It’s about the Borderline mass shooting and Woolsey Fire resulting in compounding cumulative trauma and how it affects “young people coming of age now.”

The well-researched article took a year to write. It chronicles a group of Pepperdine girls who went to the Borderline Bar and Grill in Thousand Oaks for college night country line dancing on Nov. 7, 2018. That’s the tragic night a mass shooter took 13 lives, including his own and that of Pepperdine student Alaina Housley. 

The very next night, the Woolsey Fire forced the same girls, in shock over the death of their friend and some recovering from injuries suffered while escaping the shooting, to shelter in place with fellow dorm mates.

“I wrote this piece especially in light of 2020, when there were so many tragedies one after another,” Walecki said. “For people who are coming of age right now, I wondered how that might affect them.” 

Walecki and her family missed the Woolsey Fire. They were in Connecticut to see her perform in a Yale University musical. Her Malibu home suffered smoke damage, but she was distressed about the tragedy in her hometown. 

“Woolsey is still something I think about a lot and how it changed Malibu,” Walecki said. “I think it was hard for friends my age too, because that was our childhood and parts of it burned and aren’t going to be back. They (fires) happen all the time too. Growing up you sort of get used to evacuating. 

“That coupled with this really horrible act of mass violence that happened right the day before, I guess I’ve seen a little bit of how that affected the Malibu and Thousand Oaks community, but I wanted to learn more about it.”

Walecki spoke to experts in the field of cumulative collective trauma for the article. This trauma affects those who’ve experienced multiple back-to-back, large-scale tragedies. 

“Honestly what these girls went through was so awful and beyond horrible,” she said.

The 24-year-old’s article details how, while grieving over the shocking death of Housley, the Pepperdine students were ordered to shelter in place per the university’s protocol. Pepperdine’s campus was specifically designed for wildfire emergencies. 

The article describes a scary moment when a first responder mistakenly told the students to evacuate as the fire was bearing down onto Malibu. 

“They thought they were safe and then had that upended.” said Walecki, who spoke with an expert who studies how “getting false or misleading information from an official can actually make a traumatic event more traumatic for someone. They feel they can’t trust the people in authority.”

One student recounted to Walecki how she had just put on fuzzy socks before going to bed then was mistakenly ordered to evacuate. In the scramble out the building while struggling to put on shoes she worried she’d be trampled all while crying over the death of her friend. 

“It all cascaded at that moment for her,” Walecki said.

“It breaks my heart that people feel their safety is so provisional because they see these acts of violence,” said the recent Yale graduate, who is interestingly a staff writer and associate editor at Harvard Magazine. “When we think about gun violence we’re often talking about statistics. One in four people killed in mass shootings are children and teens. We don’t necessarily think about the individual stories.” 

Walecki has written on a wide variety of subjects, including a profile of the musician Esperanza Spalding, the upward mobility gap in the U.S., and slime mold.

The Malibu native is currently writing a book about her family’s celebrated music store, Westwood Music.