Most of the 14 people killed at a holiday banquet in San Bernardino County, California, worked in the same county public health department as the man who showed up with his wife and sprayed the hall with gunfire.
Syed Farook, who worked for the county as a health inspector, returned to the holiday party with his wife and opened fire, killing the victims and leaving 21 others wounded.
An official list of the dead was released late this week, and families, friends and co-workers came forward to share some of their stories:
NICHOLAS THALASINOS, 52
He identified as a Messianic Jew and passionately defended Israel, actively debating about religion in online forums and in person, his friends said.
Only two weeks ago, Thalasinos, of Colton, was having a heated on-the-job discussion about the nature of Islam with Syed Rizwan Farook, his fellow restaurant inspector and one of the shooters.
Thalasinos’ friend, Kuuleme Stephens, said that she happened to call him while he was working with Farook and that he brought her into their debate, loudly declaring that Farook “doesn’t agree that Islam is not a peaceful religion.”
She heard Farook counter that Americans don’t understand Islam, and Thalasinos responded by saying, “I don’t know how to talk with him,” she said.
Thalasinos wife, Jennifer, said the two “probably did have debates” but “I never got the impression it was in a bad way.”
“It was more, you know, just having discussions about religion and faith,” she said.
She said she believes her husband died a martyr because of his faith but he never indicated that Syed had radicalized. She said she did not believe her husband was individually targeted.
“They all got along really well. So it’s shocking,” she said.
YVETTE VELASCO, 27
Velasco is being described by her family as smart, motivated and full of life.
In a statement, her relatives said she was “loved by all who knew her.”
“We are devastated about what happened and are still processing this nightmare,” the family said.
The young mother is survived by her parents and three sisters, as well as her son.
“Please pray for our family and the other families who have lost a loved one as a result of this terrible tragedy,” her relatives wrote.
Her aunt wrote a tribute on Facebook, saying: “This is my niece Yvette Velasco she was taken from us yesterday by an act of terrorism. Our hearts are broken in pieces. We will miss her and cherish her memories for ever!!!!”
BENNETTA BETBADAL, 46
She was born in Iran in 1969 and came to the United States at age 18 to escape the persecution of Christians after the Iranian Revolution, according to a family statement on a fundraising account on GoFundMe set up in her name.
She first settled in New York City but eventually moved to Rialto, California. She and her husband, a police officer, were married in 1997 and have three children ages 10, 12 and 15.
Betbadal graduated from California State Polytechnic University in Pomona with a degree in chemistry and took a job as a health inspector with San Bernardino County.
Her husband, Arlen Verdehyou, told The Daily Breeze that he and his wife exchanged texts at 8 a.m. Wednesday. He told her that he had withdrawn money from the bank and would do some Christmas shopping. Betbadal had recently decorated the family’s Christmas tree.
She was planning to give a presentation at the annual holiday meeting Wednesday and was excited about it, the family said.
“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,” the family said in the statement.
“This is fund will be used solely to benefit Benneta’s children, as they and the family adapt to life without her.”
SIERRA CLAYBORN, 27
Her friends say she stood out as someone who always had an encouraging word.
Timothy J. Lee remembers meeting Clayborn in a hip-hop class at the University ofCalifornia, Riverside. She was active and outgoing, praising classmates when they mastered a routine.
“She always had something encouraging to say,” Lee said.
After graduating in 2010, Clayborn worked jobs in retail and at a bank before landing a position at the San Bernardino County Department of Public Health. Like a number of other victims, she inspected restaurants.
Matthew Peairs, 27, a manager at Red Baron Pizza in Big Bear Lake, California, said Clayborn visited the restaurant a day before the shooting to complete an inspection.
“She was one of the nicest health inspectors that we’ve ever had,” he said. “She talked to us like normal people, not just doing her job.”
He said they discussed their holiday plans and she mentioned she was going to the department’s Christmas party Wednesday.
“She was stoked about the party,” Peairs said.
Word spread Wednesday among Clayborn’s friends that she was missing. FBI agents later visited her family’s house to tell them that she was killed in the attack.
“It’s definitely going to be different without her,” Lee said.
ROBERT ADAMS, 40
The Yucaipa resident was known as a loving father and husband who married his high school sweetheart, friends said.
A fundraising page on GoFundMe was set up for his wife, Summer, and 20-month-old daughter, Savannah.
Megan Neforos, who set up the page, said she knew Adams’ wife through a Facebook group for mothers of young children.
“He was her high school sweetheart. This is tragic for her,” she said. “He was an incredibly loving father and devoted husband.”
Shawn Brady, a close friend of Adams’, said on the fundraising page that “his greatest themes were he loved his Wife endlessly in the good and the bad.”
“He was 100% lost in Daddy land with Savannah,” Brady added. “He was a excited and Happy Father. He loved his parents. He loved his brother dearly and many times we had heart felt conversations about our family members. He was a good man. A man who believed that anyone in America deserved opportunity. What they do with that opportunity was up to them.”
LARRY DANIEL KAUFMAN, 42
He ran an independently owned coffee shop inside the Inland Regional Center where the county health workers were using a hall for their holiday banquet. The shop’s workers included people with developmental disabilities, which can include epilepsy, autism and intellectual disabilities.
Eileen Richey, the executive director of the Association of Regional Center Agencies, said his death “fills us with sorrow, knowing so many families are in mourning.”
Kaufman, of Rialto, was an avid participant in the Original Renaissance Pleasure Faire in Southern California each spring, said friend Katherine Panowicz, who had known him for 15 years.
She said he typically participated in parades, carrying either a pennant or a lance on a make-believe horse. The fair community is devastated to lose a friend with such a big smile, she said.
“It would change the entire environment of a room just because he had a big brilliant smile,” she said.
Family and friends wrote touching tributes to Kaufman on Facebook.
“Daniel spoke to me about books and told me he didn’t like books with sad endings,” friend Sara York wrote. “I hope that Daniel had enough happy endings to brighten his life that was cut short way too soon. RIP Daniel.”
MICHAEL RAYMOND WETZEL, 37
Friends and fellow church members appealed for help supporting his widow, Renee, a stay-at-home mom in Lake Arrowhead, California, and children.
“Michael was the most amazing person,” Renee Wetzel said in a statement, issued through her friend Celia Behar. The couple had five children from previous marriages and one child together.
“He was my best friend and an incredible father who was loved by all. I have never known a better person,” the statement said. “He loved his work and his family so very much. Without him, this family will never be the same. We appreciate all the love and support that everyone is showing.”
Behar runs a blog for mothers where Renee Wetzel frequently posted, and she turned there to ask for prayers shortly after learning that her husband, an environmental health supervisor, could have been attacked.
“My husband was in a meeting and a shooter came in. There are multiple people dead/shot. I can’t get a hold of him,” she wrote.
After last month’s deadly shootings in Paris, she posted a vacation photo on Facebook, overlain by the colors of the French flag.
After her husband’s death was confirmed, she posted a Bible passage: “When my heart is overwhelmed lead me to the rock that is higher than I.”
The Lil’ Mamas blog set up an online fundraiser for the Wetzel family on Thursday on YouCaring.
Wetzel’s ex-wife Amy also wrote a touching tribute to the father of their three children.
“The hardest worst day of my life is upon me today. My heart is broken. Suddenly our entire world has shifted. I have to tell my babies that there dad is no longer here,” she wrote.
“I pray you didn’t suffer. I pray through all our differences you know at one point how much loved you. You are the father to our the beauty angels who loved you. RIP Michael our world will never be the same without you.”
DAMIAN MEINS, 58
Walter Hackett, who met Meins some 40 years ago in high school, said that he was a good man throughout his life.
“Service to others, helping others. He very much took that to heart,” Hackett said.
Hackett called his friend “a good, good guy.”
“Funny and smart and tall. A real quick smile, very friendly and outgoing,” he said. “It’s a real hard hit for all of us who knew him.”
Meins married his high school sweetheart, now a Catholic school principal, and they raised two daughters, one a teacher. Meins was fondly remembered as the guy who dressed up as Santa for school pictures, according to a parent’s social media posting Thursday.
Meins’ Facebook page, where he can be seen smiling with his family in front of the Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco, says he studied business administration at the University of Redlands starting in 1991. In 1979, he graduated from UC Riverside. He was also retired from the Riverside County after working there for 28 years.
Meins had just started working at the health department three months ago.
In addition to working in the public health department in San Bernardino, Meins was an extended care coordinator at St. Catherine of Alexandria School in Riverside, where he also helped kids create Christmas art projects and religious murals, Hackett said.
Meins received a community award for his work in Riverside, which was based on “compassion, courage, forgiveness, generosity, humility, inclusiveness, integrity, kindness, respect and service.”
A living Rosary for the Meins family was held Thursday.
TIN NGUYEN, 31
She was supposed to get married in 2017, her family told the San Bernardino Sun.
Born in Vietnam, Nguyen was a food inspector with the county health department. She lived in Santa Ana.
Kim Oanh, a friend, mourned the loss.
“She was the most amazing person anyone could ever meet,” Oanh wrote.
“Her heart was bigger than the sun, and her personality was addicting. My heart is with her family as we mourn the death of such an incredible being and a beautiful life cut short