At 10:26 p.m. on Friday, Alex Ghassan, a 35-year-old father of twin girls, posted a video on Instagram from inside the Oakland warehouse that burst into flames one hour later, killing at least 36 people.
“He was saying how much the place reminded of him of New Jersey,” his close friend Michael Richardson, 36, tells PEOPLE. “That’s where he’s from. We’ve been to so many places like that warehouse and we never think it’ll be our last time.”
On Monday night, the City of Oakland confirmed Ghassan was one of the 17 victims who have been identified.
The director and filmmaker, who Richardson remembers as “super hilarious,” moved out to California to be closer to his 4-year-old daughters, Alex and Lucy, after he split from their mother.
“He loved his daughters. That was his whole life,” says Richardson. “A good portion of his social media is him making funny faces with his kids.”
His mother, Emilie Grandchamps, spoke to WABC when her son was first missing and said that his children “are the apple of his eyes, and they’re artists at heart already.”
The family created a fundraising page in support of his daughters.
Ghassan was a talented man, Richardson says, and was once able to film a music video with his idol Spike Lee.
“He was really outspoken, funny, super talented and all about the arts,” he recalls. “If you were doing something, he wanted to put the battery in your back, push you and be a part of it.”
He was also very much in love, says Richardson, and was with girlfriend Hanna Henrikka Ruax — who he planned on marrying — at the time of the fire. Ruax, who is missing, hasn’t officially been identified as one of the deceased.
Ruax, from Finland, had just arrived to Oakland a few days before, Richardson says.
“He was counting down the days until she arrived,” he adds. “He was very super excited about her coming back.”
The night of the fire, the couple planned to “have a good time somewhere and support independent artists,” says Richardson.
Ghassan’s death, is a “monumental loss for the artistic community in New York City and Oakland,” he adds. Although he only lived in California for a couple years, he “made such an impact” and will be missed by many.
The tragic blaze has been deemed one of the deadliest structure fires in the country over the past decade. An investigation into the cause of the fire is ongoing.