"She is someone who wanted to learn. She wanted to practice French," her gym teacher tells PEOPLE. "A very nice, happy American girl"

By Adam Carlson
Updated November 15, 2015 10:20 AM
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Nohemi Gonzalez – a 23-year-old California design student and the first American confirmed killed in the Paris terror attacks – was an optimist who wanted to practice her French, according to her gym instructor.

“And now she can’t,” the gym teacher tells PEOPLE. “It is a tragedy.”

Sofiane Slaoua, an instructor at Sofiane Latinva France, says “for me it was a tragedy, because I know the person she was.”

Gonzalez came to Slaoua’s gym on a Thursday evening with a friend, she says. “The last time I saw her was two weeks ago.”

“She was a really happy person. Very pretty, very nice with people. She was one of those girls who likes life,” Slaoua, 31, says. “When she came to the gym she would do everything in the workout. She was an optimist.

“That’s what I liked about her. She is someone who wanted to learn. She wanted to practice French. A very nice, happy American girl.”

And then Slaoua heard the news that Gonzalez was gone.

“When I saw her picture yesterday, I was really very sad. It was like, ‘Oh damn it. She is the friendly girl from Long Beach!’ ”

California State University, Long Beach, confirmed Gonzalez’s death on Saturday. The Friday attacks in Paris killed at least 129 people, according to French officials, following assaults at a concert hall, several restaurants and Stade de France.

Gonzalez, a junior, was studying for the semester at the Strate College of Design, Cal State said.

There are 16 other CSULB students studying in France, a university spokesman tells PEOPLE. There are no available details about bringing the students home, the spokesman says, but all 16 have reported that they are safe.

Gonzalez was a “kind, thoughtful, generous and talented student, dear to all who knew her,” Cal State design lecturer Michael LaForte wrote on Facebook, according to the Los Angeles Times. “We grieve for her today and give our hearts to her grieving family and boyfriend.”