Remembering the Victims of the San Bernadino Shooting 5 Years Later
On Dec. 2, 2015, two shooters opened fire at a San Bernadino county employee holiday party, killing 14 and wounding 22
On December 2, 2015, exactly five years ago, two shooters opened fire on a room full of San Bernardino County employees at a holiday party, killing 14 and wounding 22.
The shooters – identified as a married couple, Syed Rizwan Farook, 28, and Tashfeen Malik, 27 – were killed after a shootout with police.
“This shooting has caused each victims’ family, friends and co-workers, along with the first responders, to suffer an enormous personal tragedy. We must stand strong and offer support to each individual affected by this senseless attack,” Sheriff John McMahon said in a press release days after the attack.
The full list of victims who lost their lives that tragic day can be found below.
Michael Wetzel, a father of six, worked as a supervising environmental health specialist with the county.
“Please pray. 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,” his wife, Renee, wrote to her friends in a mommy group, the Lil’ Mamas, on Wednesday. Eight hours later, she learned Michael was dead.
In a statement to PEOPLE, Renee described Michael as an amazing person. “He was my best friend and and incredible father who was loved by all,” she said.
Nicholas Thalasinos was a co-worker of Farook’s. His wife, Jennifer, confirmed his death on Facebook.
Babette Holder, a close friend of Thalasinos’ describes him as a “deeply faithful man.”
“He loved his wife immensely,” she tells PEOPLE. “There was not one conversation we had where he didn’t mention Jennifer or her well-being or all the other stuff they do with the church and their family.”
She adds: “He also was the type of person who put family and friends above himself. He was always getting on me about getting some rest, like a mother hen.”
In a phone interview with The New York Times, Jennifer said her husband had spoken about Farook.
“He had worked with him,” Jennifer said. “He had talked about him. Nothing negative.”
The wife of Damian Meins confirmed by phone to PEOPLE the 58-year-old man from Riverside, California, was one of the victims.
Meins was an employee of the San Bernardino County of Environmental Health Department and had previously worked for the County of Riverside for 28 years. He retired as an assistant planning director in 2010, according to his LinkedIn profile.
Meins left behind two daughters, Tina and Tawnya, and his wife, Trenna.
Sierra Clayborn had been working with the county in the environmental health department since January 2013. A relative confirmed her death in the attack to PEOPLE.
Her friends and family took to Facebook to lament her loss. “RIP Baby sis I love you more than you ever knew,” her sister, Tamishia Clayborn, wrote on Facebook.
Friend Timothy Lee described her as empathetic. “If I would tell her something that would happen to me and I was feeling down, she knew exactly how you felt and would give you a hug,” he told PEOPLE. “She was genuinely caring. Her spirit was right there.”
He added: “I am going to miss her a lot.”
Daniel Kaufman ran the coffee shop in building 3 at the Inland Regional Center, where the shooting took place, according to The Los Angeles Times. His friends and family confirmed the death on Facebook as well.
For nearly a day, his boyfriend, Ryan Reyes, waited for news of what had happened to him. First, Reyes heard that Kaufman had only been shot in the arm and would survive. Family members called all the local hospitals, looking for Kaufman. But no one had any record of him.
Then on Thursday, the unthinkable happened: Kaufman’s aunt called Reyes to report that he was dead.
Reyes burst into tears in an emotional moment captured by Los Angeles Times photographer Rick Loomis.
“We heard yesterday he was going to be okay,” friend Kristin Myricks told PEOPLE. “He was going to surgery and we didn’t expect he would pass away.”
According to a family fundraising page set up for her children, Bennetta Betbadal was a loving wife and mother to three children, ages 10, 12, and 15. Her husband, Arlen Verdehyou, is a police officer.
Having fled from Iran to America at the age of 18 to escape Islamic extremism and the persecution of Christians that followed the Iranian Revolution, her family said it was 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.”
Aurora Godoy, 26, was the youngest of the 14 killed in the shootings and the mother to a young son. According to Bustle, she spent six years dating her high school sweetheart, James Godoy, before the pair tied the knot in 2012.
In a Facebook post, obtained by Fox, her aunt Rebecca Godoy, said that the the family “will keep her flame alive so that her young son does not forget his special mother.” Adding, “God bless us all.”
Robert Adams, 40, worked as an environmental health specialist and was a husband and father, whose family – according to an ABC 7 reporter – wants the public to “remember the way he lived and not the way he died.”
San Bernardino County Human Services spokeswoman C.L. Lopez said in a statement on the family’s behalf, “Our worst fears were confirmed today: our beloved Robert will not be coming home to us. He was a loving son, brother, husband and daddy to Savannah. Robert always wanted to be a father and for the past 20 months, he was a devoted father to Savannah and cherished every moment with her.”
The victim’s wife, Summer, is the Chief Learning Officers for the Department of Human Services.
“Robert and Summer loved each other since they were teenagers.”
Robert’s uncle, Leonard Houser II told PEOPLE that the couple “really enjoyed life.”
“His love of family, the love of his wife and his daughter. He was always recording their lives together,” Houser says. “It was just the most amazing thing.”
Shannon Johnson, 45, was a Los Angeles resident and worked as an environmental health specialist for 10 years, ABC7 reports.
A San Bernardino County environmental health inspector, Isaac Amanios, 60, came to the United States in 2000 from war-torn Eritrea “to better his life and his kids’ life,” his nephew, Abiel Gebrekidane told PEOPLE.
The married Amanios had two sons and one daughter. “In our culture, having children, it’s not just ‘have.’ It’s a pleasure. His life revolved around his wife and his children,” Gebrekidane says.
Gebrekidane describes his uncle as a man of “great character. Very down to Earth, very sweet human being.”
He adds that for all of Amanios’s accomplishments, “True wealth is not measured by materialistic wealth but by the people who we love and treasure. He was a great man who will be missed.”
Amanios was also the cousin of New York Giants safety Nate Berhe.
Harry Bowman was a resident of Upland, California – a city just 25 miles west of San Bernardino, Bustle reports; adding that he was the father of two daughters, ages 11 and 15.
A family member of Bowman’s, Bill Kraft told the Los Angeles Times, “Death at its best is hard to take. This type of death is extremely hard to take, especially when you have young children. There is no way you are going to make them understand.”
According to the San Bernardino Sun, 27-year-old Yvette Velasco lived in Fontana and worked as an employee for the San Bernardino County Public Health Department.
On the day of the shooting, Velasco’s family was worried about her whereabouts and her aunt Mindy Velasco called hospitals, police and evacuee centers trying to find any information she could about her niece, telling the Los Angeles Times, she “[feared] the worst,” because her niece would have “definitely [been] in contact after something like this”.
The family received the news on Thursday that Velasco was among the dead.
In a statement to the media, the victim’s uncle, George Velasco said, “Yvette was an intelligent, motivated and beautiful young woman, who was full of life and loved by all who knew her. We are devastated about what happened, and are still processing this nightmare.”
Born in Vietnam, Tin Nguyen, 31, grew up in Orange County and worked as a health inspector for San Bernardino country, the Desert Sun reports.
Her cousin, Calvin Nguyen, told the newspaper that Tin was not supposed to be at work on the day of the massacre, but he suspects that she dropped by to attend the holiday party.
The family was reportedly in the middle of texting about their Christmas plans when Tin stopped responding. Around 10:30 p.m., her relatives became worried. According to the paper, just 30 minutes later, they learned that she was at the Inland Regional Center when the shooting occurred.
“Her mom tried to call, and all people tried to call, but no answer,” Clavin told the Desert Sun. “We said, ‘If she survived, she would have called us back.’ She was very intelligent, a good girl.”
Tin was also set to be married in 2017. According to the OC Registar, her uncle Phu Nguyen told Newsday, “She was excited about trying on her wedding dress.”
A health inspector for San Bernardino County, Juan Espinoza, 50, is remembered by his daughter for the emphasis he put on getting an education.
Jerusalem Espinoza-Mendoza told Press Enterprise, described her father as being “fair” and “honest.”
“I do remember him always saying that education is something that can never be taken away from you,” she said. “It’s something that he instilled in me. He was just a really hard worker. He was very fair. He was just very honest.”
Not only did he instill the importance of an education, but he worked towards one as well. Espinoza held a Bachelor’s degree in science from California State University, San Bernardino.
He left his wife, Sandra Mendoza, as well as his daughter and a son, Jonathan Espinoza-Mendoza.
• With reporting by JOHNNY DODD, LIZZ LEONARD and CHRISTINE PELISEK