Some in closely knit group knew their killer

A makeshift memorial near the Inland Regional Centre in San Bernardino on Dec 4.
A makeshift memorial near the Inland Regional Centre in San Bernardino on Dec 4. PHOTO: AFP

SAN BERNANDINO • Struck down at an office holiday party, almost all the victims of the mass shooting on Wednesday in San Bernardino, California, were friends and colleagues. In a departure from some other high-profile rampages, several of them also knew their killer, Syed Rizwan Farook, who opened fire on them with his wife, Tashfeen Malik, said the authorities.

Farook and Mr Nicholas Thalasinos, 52, one of the victims, were part of the same "little group" of employees, said his wife, Mrs Jennifer Thalasinos, on Thursday.

She said she never heard her husband say anything negative about Farook during the time they worked together.

She said she and her husband were Messianic Jews, part of a faith that incorporates elements of Judaism and Christianity. He liked talking about politics, she said, and was not shy in expressing his views.

The many victims included Mr Daniel Kaufman, whose friend Holly Nanning mourned for him at a candlelight vigil on Thursday. PHOTO: EUROPEAN PRESSPHOTO AGENCY

"He was very outspoken about ISIS and all of these radicalised Muslims," she said. "If he had thought somebody in his office was like that, he would have said something."

His friend, Ms Kuuleme Stephens, 41, said that, during a call with him while he was at work two weeks ago, she overheard him arguing about Israel with Farook.

"It wasn't like he was shouting," she said, adding she did not think much of it at the time. She said she could hear Farook saying that Israel was not the Jewish homeland and that Jews did not belong there. She said it was not out of the ordinary for Mr Thalasinos to argue about politics, and she thought it was just another heated debate.

The authorities said on Thursday that most of the victims worked for a division of the county's public health department that was responsible for inspecting everything from restaurants and public pools to tattoo parlours. So was Farook, who left the party in a foul mood on Wednesday morning and returned soon after with Malik and an arsenal that included firearms and homemade bombs.

One of the only victims who did not work with Farook was Mr Daniel Kaufman, 42, who ran the coffee shop at the Inland Regional Centre, where the attack took place. Friends remembered him as a man of boundless enthusiasm and joy.

"He was so full of life, it was ridiculous," said Ms Stachia Chadwick, who had known him for more than 10 years.

A deputy director of the environmental health department, Mr Damian Meins, 58, was killed too. The Press Enterprise reported that he used to dress up as Santa Claus and take pictures with children at a local school, St Catherine of Alexandria, where he also worked as a physical education teacher.

A number of the victims left behind young children. Mr Michael Wetzel, 37, had six, according to The San Bernardino County Sun. His church and a local parenting blog both started online fund-raisers for his family.

The health department's losses did not stop there.

The youngest of those killed included Ms Yvette Velasco, 27, who painstakingly examined restaurants for health code violations, and Ms Sierra Clayborn, 27, whose sister Tamishia mourned her on Facebook, saying: "RIP baby sis I love you more than you ever knew."

"You were taken too soon."


A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on December 05, 2015, with the headline 'Some in closely knit group knew their killer'. Print Edition | Subscribe