SAN BERNARDINO, Calif. — They were environmentalists, health inspectors, parents and science fiction fans. Some were deeply religious; one was on the cusp of marriage. A few were at the beginning of their professional careers.
Before the spray of bullets killed or wounded almost three dozen people, many of the victims of Wednesday’s shooting in San Bernardino were enjoying a relaxed moment at a workplace holiday party.
Of the 14 people killed and 21 injured, many knew or worked with 28-year-old gunman Syed Rizwan Farook, according to accounts from their friends and family.
As the investigation revealed more about Farook and his wife, who also took part in the massacre, the names and stories of victims and survivors emerged.
On a sidewalk several blocks from the shooting scene, Van Nguyen sat on the pavement late Thursday morning, sobbing, as loved ones formed a wall around her. Nguyen’s daughter, Tin Nguyen, 31, of Santa Ana, in Orange County, was one of those killed, the family said.
Tin Nguyen, like Farook, was a food inspector with the San Bernardino County health department, said her uncle, Phu Nguyen. He said his niece was “getting ready to get married” next year.
“She was excited about trying on her wedding dress,” Phu Nguyen said.
Another employee, Nicholas Thalasinos, 52, had worked at the department for about 12 years and was an inspector alongside Farook, a friend said.
Thalasinos, formerly of New Jersey, moved to California after he met his wife in an online chat forum for fans of the 1980s science fiction TV series “Beauty And The Beast,” said friend Neal Hallford of San Diego. Hallford called Thalasinos and his wife Jennifer “soul mates.”
“He was a very sweet guy. He was kind of quiet, very thoughtful individual,” Hallford said. He described Thalasinos, who according to news reports was a Messianic Jew, as a “renaissance man” who loved reading and science fiction.
“He was someone who was a very courageous individual,” Hallford said. “He wanted the world to be a better place.”
Larry “Daniel” Kaufman, 42, of San Bernardino, ran the coffee shop at the Inland Regional Center where the shooting occurred, according to the Los Angeles Times.
Kaufman’s boyfriend Ryan Reyes told the Times he had worked at the social services center for about five years.
Friend David Schoelen, of Riverside, said he met up with Kaufman at comic and cosplay conventions, which they both frequented. They first met at a science fiction and horror convention for the LGBT community. Kaufman often developed highly creative original costumes on his own and was known to have wildly colorful hair, Schoelen said.
“He was an eccentric goofball, at least in those settings,” he said. “He was very gregarious, he had a big laugh.”
Shooting victim Michael Raymond Wetzel, 37, left behind six children, ages 1 to 14 — three from his first marriage and three from his second, according to Pastor Rod Akins.
“He was an amazing guy,” Akins said. “Michael had really brought some healing and closure to their family, and unity and spiritual leadership.”
Wetzel, who lived in Lake Arrowhead with his family, was a longtime member of the Church of the Woods, which is crowd-funding donations of money and meals for the family. Early Thursday, Wetzel’s wife Renee posted a new Facebook profile picture — a Bible quote in white italics with a green background: “When my heart is overwhelmed, lead me to the Rock that is higher than I.”
Wetzel worked as a supervising environmental health specialist for San Bernardino County, according to the Riverside Press-Enterprise. He attended Cal State San Bernardino, where he was a member of the Sigma Phi Epsilon fraternity.
“Michael was the most amazing person. He was my best friend and an incredible father who was loved by all,” Renee Wetzel said in a statement. “I didn’t know a better person. He loved his work and his family so very much. Without him, this family will never be the same.”
Sierra Clayborn, 27, from Moreno Valley, had been working in the county’s Environmental Health Department since January 2013, according to People magazine. She graduated from the University of California, Riverside in 2010 with a degree in biochemistry, according to the Press-Enterprise.
On Thursday, friends and family left tributes on Facebook. Her sister, Tamishia Clayborn, vented her pain after she learned of the shooting: “RIP Baby sis I love you more than you ever knew. You were taken too soon. My heart is broken. I am completely devastated ...”
Damian Meins, 58, of Riverside, had spent 28 years working for the county and had recently returned to working for the Environmental Health Department after retiring in 2010, according to the Times. He had two grown daughters, and was known for dressing up as Santa for the children at St. Catherine’s School in Riverside, the Times reported.
The tragic shooting touched lives on the East Coast too: New York Giants safety Nat Berhe tweeted early Thursday that his cousin was one of the 14 who were killed in the attack, but initially didn’t name him.
“Just got word that one of my cousins was among the 14 killed yesterday, I’m so sick right now,” Berhe tweeted early Thursday. “My cousin’s name is Isaac Amanios and he was a great human being. Thoughts and prayers are with my family back in CA.”
Berhe also sorrowfully reflected on the proliferation of mass shootings across the country. “The true terror is that this keeps happening. I still can’t believe it. Take a moment to think of the families hurting right now,” he wrote.
The San Bernardino County Sheriff’s Department said Amanios, 60, lived in Fontana, where Berhe was born. According to the Times, Amanios worked for the county health department and is survived by his wife and three adult children.
Benneta Bet-Badal, 46, was a mother of three from Rialto headed into work to give a presentation on Wednesday morning. She was born in Iran and fled to America when she was 18 to escape Islamic extremism that took hold there after the Iranian Revolution, according to a GoFundMe page set up to benefit her children. Bet-Badal, her husband and children, ages 10, 12 and 15, smile warmly and embrace from a red-walled living room in front of a Christmas tree in a photo displayed on the page.
Bet-Badal graduated from Cal Poly Pomona with a degree in chemistry, according to the fundraising page, and she worked for many years as an inspector for the county health department.
“Benneta left the house Wednesday morning, excited about a presentation she was scheduled to give to her supervisors and coworkers at their annual meeting,” according to the fundraising page. “It is the ultimate irony that her life would be stolen from her that day by what appears to be the same type of extremism that she fled so many years ago.”
In the photo on a fundraising page set up for Robert Adams, 40, of Yucaipa, Adams and his wife beam as they hold their baby daughter Savannah in their lap on a haystack, surrounded by pumpkins and gourds. In another photo, Adams and his wife, Summer — his high school sweetheart — grin at a fancy dinner table, Robert in a bright red tie.
Adams, who according to the Los Angeles Times was an environmental health specialist with San Bernardino County, was responsible for inspecting pools and food facilities during construction. He was devoted to his wife and enamored by his daughter, who is 20 months old, according to the Times.
The comments on the GoFundMe page reflect the personality of an outgoing man who knew how to make people smile. And many who donated to the GoFundMe page reminisced about the friend they made through Eve Online, a popular online roleplaying game.
“We always talked about life as we played video games together,” said a GoFundMe user named Shawn Brady. “I had taken a break from Eve Online about 2 months ago after 11 years of nonstop gaming. We still chatted, but just not the 5 to 8 hour nonstop. He was truly one of the best friends I have ever had.”
“All day we waited for news that he was safely coming home to his beautiful wife Summer and his absolutely precious daughter, Savannah. It is now confirmed this will not be happening,” reads a statement on the fundraising page, organized by “a group of momma friends, all bonded by a birth month, who don’t know what else to do.
Rallying around the young family and raising money for their wellbeing in Adams’ absence, the statement said, “is how we make sense of what makes NO sense.”
Five others were killed in Wednesday’s shooting: Shannon Johnson, 45, of Los Angeles; Aurora Godoy, 26, of San Jacinto; Harry Bowman, 46, of Upland; Yvette Velasco, 27, of Fontana; and Juan Espinoza, 50, of Highland.