The San Bernardino County public health workers had come from everywhere: Fontana, Mexico, Vietnam, Iran, Eritrea. They gathered for an American workplace tradition, a Christmas potluck.
We know of them because two fanatics had become so blinded by their cultish interpretation of Islam that they abandoned their 6-month-old infant and opened fire. In the photos of the unarmed innocents, I see us all.
“We are truly a melting pot,” Senior Pastor Bruce Dowell said by phone from Shiloh Messianic Congregation, the Calimesa church attended by one of the workers, Nicholas Thalasinos. “We rub shoulders with everybody every day.”
Thalasinos yelled for a co-worker to seek cover under the table, his last words. She did and survived, The Los Angeles Times reported as part of its powerful coverage of the attack and its aftermath. Thalasinos was a conservative who railed against radical Islam and political correctness. He had accepted Christ while adhering to aspects of Judaism.
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In Colton, not far away, Isaac Amanios’ family and friends gathered at St. Mina Coptic Orthodox Church. Amanios had immigrated from Eritrea and taught his children to work hard and value their education, the American way, his sons and daughter said in their eulogy.
When President Barack Obama and first lady Michelle Obama visited the family members in San Bernardino, Amanios’ family brought one of Amanios’ treasures, a copy of the invitation to Obama’s 2009 inauguration. Although he couldn’t vote in 2008, Amanios helped raise money for Obama’s election.
A Copt from Eritrea who believed in Obama. A Jew who believed in Christ. One liberal, one conservative. They were among the 14 who died on Dec. 2.
So was employee of the year Sierra Sunshine Clayborn, 27, whose funeral was at a Baptist church. And Michael Raymond Wetzel, 37, father of six, mourned at Church of the Woods in Twin Peaks, near Lake Arrowhead. A speaker at his funeral told how he’d order burritos at Thai restaurants.
Tin Nguyen, 31, was 8 when her mother fled Communist Vietnam. Bennetta Bet-Badal, a Christian, fled Iran’s religious tyranny. Police and firefighters in Rialto paid for her two children to buy whatever they wanted at a Target. “Star Wars” gear caught their eyes.
Juan Espinoza was the youngest of 13 siblings from Sonora, Mexico. He put himself through Cal State San Bernardino by working for the California Department of Corrections. Yvette Velasco, 27, was the daughter of a retired California highway patrolman. Larry Daniel Kaufman’s boyfriend dropped him off at work that day.
Shannon Johnson, 45, died shielding his colleague, Denise Peraza, who lived to recall his last words: “I got you.” Muslims held a candlelit vigil in Los Angeles’ Koreatown, where Johnson lived, and #Igotyou lives on, having spread across the Internet.
Too many people died of too many mass shootings again in 2015. They were children of God in South Carolina who welcomed a sick young man into their midst, students in Oregon who wanted to better themselves, public health workers who reflected this great state’s diversity.
The killers were part of that mix. Syed Farook, an American-born college graduate, and Tashfeen Malik, a Pakistani, became nihilistic devotees of radical Islam, and Farook’s friend, Enrique Marquez, bought the assault weapons.
Each of their bullets struck at the heart of who we are, as Californians and Americans. Each lost life took a whole world with it.