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Free Spirit, Sheriff Deputy's Son Among Oakland Fire Victims

  • Associated Press

Flowers and notes are left at a makeshift memorial near the site of a warehouse fire, Dec. 7, 2016. Recovery efforts at the site have ended officials said Wednesday.

There was a musical artist from Ohio who was generous about giving people hugs to make them feel appreciated. A music-loving teenage son of a sheriff's deputy. And a DJ passionate about social justice.

They were among the 36 people killed when flames raced through a dance party last Friday at a converted Oakland warehouse.

Recovery efforts ended Wednesday and investigators were trying to determine whether a refrigerator was a potential source of the fire.

Here's a closer look at who the victims were:

Free spirit

Billy Dixon, 35, went out of his way to make people feel special, his family said in a statement.

Dixon, from Chagrin Falls, Ohio, was remembered for his smile and Ohio Supreme Court Justice Bill O'Neill, a long-time family friend, called him a free spirit.

“He had a smile that would light up the room when he walked in. Everybody was always happy when Billy was there. He wasn't real interested in rules. He was an artist,'' O'Neill told the CBS affiliate in Cleveland, WOIO-TV.

Dixon graduated in 2000 from Chagrin Falls High.

In a statement, his family said Dixon had "a hug for everyone no matter how long he has known them and has an amazing gift of making people feel appreciated."

Music-loving sheriff deputy’s son

Draven McGill, 17, was a member of Oakland's Pacific Boychoir Academy whose tastes ranged from classical to hip-hop to electronic dance music.

The baritone singer had gone to the party with friends from the Ruth Asawa San Francisco School of the Arts where he was a junior. His father is Alameda County sheriff's Deputy Phil McGill.

“We were like, `You gotta be kidding.' This hit us, too,'' sheriff's Sgt. Ray Kelly told the San Francisco Chronicle. “It's hit every cross-section of society here in the Bay Area and all over the world.”

McGill's friend Faelan Westhead said the two were sitting on a couch on the warehouse's second floor enjoying the music when they noticed what appeared to be mist created by a fog machine. They soon realized it was smoke from a fire and tried to flee.

McGill remained calm as panic rose among the crowd, Westhead said, but then the lights went out and the friends became separated. Westhead said he and another friend stumbled through smoke and down a burning staircase to get outside. That's when they discovered McGill had not followed them.

“It's rough,” said Gabriel Bibliowicz, a baritone singer in the vocal program and the school's student body president. “Every memory we have of him is so much bigger now.”

Friends said McGill was fun and always up for a new adventure.

“He was a sweet, loving young man taken from this earth too early,'' said his great-aunt, Merlena Moore.

Hillary Morse, left, cries as Eva Ramirez, right, talks with her grandson, Jacob Ramirez, while viewing a makeshift memorial Wednesday. Morse lost two of her friends in the fire.

Hillary Morse, left, cries as Eva Ramirez, right, talks with her grandson, Jacob Ramirez, while viewing a makeshift memorial Wednesday. Morse lost two of her friends in the fire.



A revolutionary

Johnny Igaz, 34, was a DJ committed to social justice, friends said.

Igaz reportedly was playing a set when the fire broke.

Demitria Ruiz-Sauliere, who knew Igaz from the close-knit house and techno music scene, said his “unique warmth and charisma” earned him friends and fans. She described him as a punk rocker who grew up in the Bay area.

A lover of synthesizers and electronic music, Igaz offered free tutoring sessions to younger musicians to help jumpstart their careers, Ruiz-Sauliere said.

He was a supporter of the Black Lives Matter movement and pushed for social equality.

“He was a revolutionary,” she said. “If there's any person who could be the root for any kind of widespread grassroots movement, it was Johnny.”

He was listed on Facebook as a record buyer at Green Apple Books and Music in San Francisco.

An old soul and kindhearted girl

Alex Vega, 22, went to the party with his longtime girlfriend, Michela Gregory, 20, who also died in the fire.

Vega's brother, Daniel Vega, said the family was notified that a body found in the burned warehouse had been positively identified as Alex's.

Alex Vega had jobs as a valet and also worked with Gregory at a mortuary, the older Vega said. But his hobbies and interests were boundless. He had dreams of being a painter, a photographer, a fashion designer, a mechanic.

“The kid could have done whatever he wanted,” Daniel Vega said.

Alex was the youngest of four brothers, and Daniel, the oldest, was 14 years his senior. But despite the age difference, the two shared a passion for cars, urban art and electronic music.

“If anything we were like best friends,” the eldest brother said. “Alex was an old soul. I think that's why we got along so well.”

Gregory was studying child development at San Francisco State University and was committed to her studies, said education lecturer Rama Kased, who leads the Metro College Success Program.

“I would see her all the time pushing her classmates, getting her classmates to finish the work,” Kased told The Associated Press. “She was quiet, but when she spoke, the class would listen because they knew she would have something important to say.”

Her friend Lili Reyes said she had been texting her before the event.

“She was a kindhearted girl with so much life,” Reyes said. “Everyone she met, she has made such an impact on them.”

A poet who was loved

Em Bohlka, 33, was a poet with a master's degree in literature.

Jack Bohlka told the Los Angeles Times that his daughter was a barista and “just a completely loving individual, truly a gentle spirit, thoughtful and philosophical.”

Bohlka and his daughter used to quote Kurt Vonnegut to each other in text messages.

One of the lines they loved was: “Out on the edge you see all kinds of things you can't see from the center.”

A passion for nail art

Jennifer Kiyomi Tanouye, 31, of Oakland, reportedly had a nail art booth on the second floor of the warehouse space where the fire broke out.

Nail art was just one of the many things Tanouye was involved in — she helped organize music festivals, was a music manager at Shazam, and managed the social media accounts of a magazine store.

“So much energy, so wide-eyed and full of life,” said Noella Teele, a friend and the co-owner of the magazine store Issues.

Anna Bleviss Whitlatch told the San Francisco Chronicle that her friend loved concerts, people and bright colors. She said Tanouye often took her passion for nail art to parties, setting up as the "Underground Nail Bar.''

“She was a real vibrant person, always smiling and going to concerts and stuff,” Whitlatch said of her friend of more than a decade.

Her friend Shayne Keator said Tanouye was quirky and funny. She named her Pomeranian after a fake art museum he once told her about.

A card and flowers are displayed at a makeshift memorial near the site of a warehouse fire, Dec. 7, 2016, in Oakland.

A card and flowers are displayed at a makeshift memorial near the site of a warehouse fire, Dec. 7, 2016, in Oakland.

DJ with a punk rock sensibility

Edmond Lapine, 34, was born in Ogden, Utah, and later went to a college in Colorado before ultimately going on to Evergreen State College in Olympia, Washington, where he studied French, as well as Russian literature.

His father, Bob Lapine said his son "was more on the artsy side,'' a musician and music lover who wanted to have a career as a DJ.

“I just want the world to know that he was a very decent human being,” said Bob Lapine, who planned to meet up with his son's friends in Oakland.

He and his ex-wife, Edmond's mother, will split the cremated remains of their son, he said. “I try to be strong, but I break down every once in a while,” Bob Lapine said.

Childhood friend Jesse Nolan said Lapine had some gigs as a DJ. The two were in a band together when they were in middle school, and they were influenced by grunge rock. They kept in touch, most recently through Facebook and texts.

“Even though he was more into electronic music toward the end of his life, he had kind of a punk rock sensibility,” Nolan said. “He rejected everything that was corporate and fake.”

Female DJ breaking down barriers

Chelsea Faith Dolan, 33, was a brilliant San Francisco DJ and producer who was beginning to get the recognition she deserved in a genre of music typically dominated by men, said fellow DJ Nihar Bhatt.

Dolan, whose death was confirmed by city officials on Tuesday, encountered overwhelming sexism and was working to get more women involved in electronic dance music, mentoring people and starting a musicians' learning group, Bhatt said. She generously shared feedback and reinforcement with fellow performers.

“She really was willing to give much more than she received,” said Bhatt, who was outside the warehouse talking with a friend when the fire erupted.

Underground music promoter

Micah Danemayer, 28, was an Oakland promoter dedicated to bringing people together and showcasing new performers, Bhatt said.

Danemayer worked for an ongoing experimental music series called "Trance Mutations," under the company name of Obscura Machina.

Danemayer persuaded Bhatt to do his first live solo show. He often projected films on a wall during other artists' sets, and was doing so the night of the fire.

“He was so passionate for the underground, for people to have a chance,” Bhatt said.

Danemayer was a 2011 graduate of the Massachusetts College of Art and Design, where he studied at the Studio for Interrelated Media, a self-directed program encompassing sound, installation, performance, conceptual art, and live event production.

Nita Sturiale, chair of the program, said Danemayer “was like a perpetual wide-eyed child, and always willing to try new things,” and “was goofy and edgy.”

His father, Chris Danemayer, in a statement issued through the college, said his son moved to Oakland a year after he graduated.

“He just exploded there, doing exactly what he wanted to do,” his father said.

The family established a scholarship fund at the college.

Her true self

Feral Pines, 29, a transgender musician and artist from Connecticut, recently moved to the San Francisco area to be with friends, according to her brother, Ben Fritz.

“She was a kind and beautiful person who had the strength to be her true self even when she knew that was not an easy path,” Ben Fritz, 39, told The Associated Press. He said she appeared to be the “happiest she had been in a few years.”

Their father, Bruce Fritz, told the San Francisco Chronicle that his daughter loved animals and played bass guitar.

Pines graduated from Staples High School in Westport in 2005 and the School for the Visual Arts in Manhattan in 2010. She lived in several places before moving to the Bay Area, according to her family.

Found their place through music

Ben Runnels, 32, and Nicole Renae Siegrist, 29, known as “Denalda,” formed the synthpop group Introflirt.

They named their last album “Temporary Heaven” to describe the fleeting nature of life and the moments of happiness when people feel completely comfortable with who they are, no matter how different from others they may be, said Brendan Dreaper, who helps operate Mixtape, the Oakland-based company that managed Introflirt.

That's also the message the two friends would want the world to remember about their music, Dreaper said. They dubbed their sound “croonwave” and made it their mission to create a “soundtrack for the insecure,” according to Mixtape.

“You may feel like an outsider, but that's your advantage in life,” Dreaper said. “They were completely comfortable with being themselves. I think they did achieve that.”

Runnels, who played guitar and sang, was introverted but connected to people through his music, Dreaper said.

Siegrist, who played the synthesizer, was an outgoing “free spirit” who used herself as a canvas, painting black streaks or bold marks on her face to contrast with outfits like a veil, halo of flowers and white dress.

Runnels was from the East Coast, and Siegrist the Midwest. They met in the Bay Area a few years ago.

The two went to the warehouse show with friends, including musician Travis Hough, who also died in the fire and worked with Mixtape.

Siegrist's cousin, Rhonda Ford, said the musician grew up in Lincoln, Nebraska, and described her as someone who could talk to anybody and lived life to the fullest.

The heart of Oakland

Ara Jo, 29, was a vibrant artist and community organizer who could make friends with anyone, anywhere, friends said.

Jo grew up in Los Angeles and was living in Oakland. Her parents flew in from South Korea after being notified of her death.

“She's a typical artist. She's got more causes than she has energy, even though she has a lot of energy,” said her boyfriend, Terry Ewing.

Ewing said one of her latest causes was to raise money and awareness for American Indians and others protesting the Dakota Access Pipeline Project in North Dakota.

Friends mourned Jo on social media, calling her the heart of Oakland.

Father of twins

Alex Ghassan, 35, was the father of twin toddlers. He was a director and producer who worked with Spike Lee and Talib Kweli.

His fiancee, Hanna Henrikka Ruax, 32, was a yoga instructor, entrepreneur and activist from Helsinki, Finland. She arrived in Oakland in late November.

The pair had been dating long-distance, and Ghassan was preparing to move to Europe, said his roommate Vikram Babu.

“He was fed up with the U.S.,” Babu said.

Ghassan previously resided in Orange, New Jersey. He has lived in Oakland on and off for about a year, Babu said.

Ghassan's mother, Emilie Grandchamps, told WABC-TV, that Ghassan often went out of his way to help other artists.

Before the fire, Ghassan posted video of the warehouse party on Instagram. “Oakland reminds me of (hash)JerseyCity so much at times,” he wrote.

Ruax, a social justice activist, organized a large protest in Finland after a neo-Nazi rally there, Babu said.

Ruax's Instagram account is filled with playful photos of her and Ghassan. Last week, she posted a selfie with Ghassan where both made funny faces into the camera.

“Sent this pic to my mumz after arriving home to my boo,” she wrote. “Home sweet home!”

Judy Hough, left, and her husband Brian, center, hold a picture of their son Travis, who died in a warehouse fire, during a vigil on Monday, Dec. 5, 2016.

Judy Hough, left, and her husband Brian, center, hold a picture of their son Travis, who died in a warehouse fire, during a vigil on Monday, Dec. 5, 2016.

Passionate music therapist

Travis Hough, 35, believed music healed people, including himself.

Hough was an experimental electronic artist behind Ghost of Lightning, a project in which he created music to explore and understand his own psyche, said Michelle Campbell, founder of Mixtape, an artist management company based in Oakland.

Hough worked by day as a therapist in schools in the Bay area, using music to help children cope with trauma, Campbell said.

“Really his passion was his work in helping find ways to use music as a means of healing,” Campbell said.

Hough played bass and keyboard and was a performance artist who was inspired by Prince and other male performers “who wear ruffles, glitter and makeup,” she said. His shows included orbs of rhythmically pulsating light.

He enjoyed a good meal with family and friends and hiking through northern California's Redwood forests.

“He was definitely a radiant light,” Campbell said.

Extraordinary co-worker

Nick Gomez-Hall, 25, made a warm impression on friends and colleagues in California and Rhode Island as a musician, mentor and community advocate who most recently worked for an independent publisher.

Berkeley, California-based publisher Counterpoint Press said Monday it was devastated by the loss of an ``extraordinary co-worker and a true friend.''

“Whether he was recommending new music to listen to [and it was always so good], regaling us with tales of the bowling alley, offering his beloved truck for a ride if anyone needed it or sharing his much-appreciated opinions about a jacket or manuscript, he made everyone feel like they were his friend,” the company wrote in a social media post. “He was kind, considerate, hilarious.”

Gomez-Hall was a 2013 graduate of Brown University in Providence, Rhode Island, where he concentrated in American Studies. The university on Monday said he “played an integral role” in the school's Swearer Center for Public Service. He volunteered to teach at an elementary school while an undergraduate and later helped run an after-school program.

He also became well-known in Providence's music scene for playing guitar and singing in the two-man band Nightmom.

Gomez-Hall recently moved to the San Francisco Bay Area. He was originally from Southern California and graduated from Coronado High School.

"Total goofball"

Cash Askew, a 22-year-old musician from Oakland, was kind, gentle and a "total goofball,'' said her girlfriend, Anya Taylor.

The couple met about a year ago at a concert in Oakland and connected through their love of music.

Taylor told the Washington Post she rushed to the scene after hearing about the blaze, but “all we could do was stand there.”

Leisa Baird Askew said her daughter grew up in a musical and artistic family.

Cash was one of two members of the band Them Are Us Too. She had been performing with bandmate Kennedy Ashlyn since 2013. The duo met while studying at the University of California at Santa Cruz.

Ashlyn said Askew recently started becoming ``her best self'' after she came out as transgender about two years ago.

Teacher, Gardener

Sara Hoda, 30, of Walnut Creek, was a “sweet person” who gardened and taught at a Montessori school, friend Carol Crewdson told the Los Angeles Times.

Crewdson, 33, met Hoda in 2010 when they started a collective where artists and creatives could stay, avoiding the San Francisco Bay Area's high rent.

They lost touch after the collective shut down. But Crewdson said while it was operating, Hoda was very active in the collective process.

Unique sense of style

Donna Kellogg, 32, of Oakland, was described as energetic and intelligent by friends and co-workers.

Josh Howes, an ex-boyfriend, said Kellogg wanted to be a healer, the East Bay Times reported. He said she was studying nutrition.

Kellogg worked at Highwire Coffee Roasters, where founder Robert Myers said she had just cut her hair and was on the brink of changes. He said all her co-workers enjoyed connecting with her through their shared interests in coffee and her quirky sense of style.

“I loved that she had a belt with her name on it and would wear it to work,” Myer said.

Vocalist who was “life of the party”

Brandon Chase Wittenauer, 32, was born in Santa Maria, California, on the state's central coast and had established himself as a musician in San Franciso Bay area.

Wittenauer, of Hayward, was a vocalist who performed under the stage name Nex Iuguolo for the duo, Symbiotix.Fungi.

Amanda Fish, a friend of 15 years, remembered him as "a sweet and sensitive artist [who] embodied love and positivity'' in a statement provided to People magazine.

“He had found his place in life and the Oakland artist community and was happy and thriving. He saw art in everything around him,” Fish wrote. “He loved other people, and people adored him. He was the life of the party.”


Rising DJ in San Francisco scene

Griffin Madden, 23, was a DJ who had been increasingly becoming an important promoter in San Francisco, DJ Nihar Bhatt said.

“He took a lot of inspiration from the people around him,” Bhatt said. “He wanted to bring in the next generation of things.”

Others victims

The city of Oakland also identified among the victims Jennifer Morris, 21, of Foster City; David Cline of Oakland; and Vanessa Plotkin, 21, of Oakland.

Some friends and family members were still awaiting word of their missing loved ones as crews searched for remains. Some gathered outside a sheriff's office for official confirmation on their status.

Internationally known visual artist

Jonathan Bernbaum, 34, is listed as missing. The Oakland visual artist's dramatic light and video shows enhanced the performances of musicians in California and around the world.

Bernbaum's work is well known within the music genre, and he toured internationally with groups like electronic house music duo Knife Party.

“If you've seen a Knife Party show ... there's a 99 percent chance you were watching Jon's visuals and know how talented he was,” Knife Party musician Rob Swire wrote on Twitter, saying he would miss his good friend.

Friends who attended an impromptu memorial at the University of California's School of Cinematic Arts told CBS Los Angeles that Bernbaum still made time for small venue shows. Bernbaum graduated from the school in 2008.

His friend, Sia Abverezai, told the news station that Bernbaum was likely on the second floor behind electrical equipment when the fire broke out.

"Philosopher of electronic music”

Joey Matlock, also known as Casio, decentralized the individualism of rock music into more of a collective endeavor, Bhatt said.

Bhatt described him as a “philosopher of electronic music.” His sets often came late at night and were heavy with recordings of nature and ambient sounds molded into a percussion-based “audio assault that was cathartic,” Bhatt said.

“Anyone who heard it had their minds blown,” he said.

Matlock was listed as missing.

John Matlock, the father of Joey Matlock, attended a gathering in Oakland where he quoted a few lines from one of his son's songs called “Share the cup, spare the sword,” that said to put others first.

Matlock told the crowd he and his wife were hurting but that they were one part of their son's family and this community was another part of it.

“We loved Joey,” he said, “and we love all of you.”

Calvin Johnson of K Records in Olympia, Washington, said Matlock had been an artist on the label and lived in the city for 10 years before moving around.

“He really was the gentlest of people,” he said.

Johnson said Matlock's music could be “aggressive and so completely different from his personality.”

Like a brother

Peter Wadsworth is listed among the missing.

His friend Tammy Tasoff said Wadsworth looked out for her, doing little things that made her life easier. He would organize her messy files, give her advice and fix her computer if she needed help, said Tasoff, a dental student.

He bought video games because he knew she loved them, and he would often watch her play, she said.

“Usually he'd say, 'Let's play video games,' and then he'd say, 'No, I just want to watch you play,’” she said, sobbing. “He'd make me food. He took really good care of me. He was like my big brother.”

Candles burn and notes are left at a makeshift memorial near the site of a warehouse fire Wednesday.

Candles burn and notes are left at a makeshift memorial near the site of a warehouse fire Wednesday.

Attorney with a desire to help

Nick Walrath, 31, of Oakland texted his girlfriend, Alexis Abrams-Bourke, from inside the burning structure, saying there was a fire and that he loved her.

Abrams-Bourke said Monday that Walrath was among the missing. She spoke between sobs as she described him as a wonderful person who was open and vulnerable and goofy and generous.

“I feel like my future has been ripped from me,” she said.

The two moved together from New York City several years ago after Walrath got a job as a clerk for the San Francisco-based 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals. He spent a year working as a judicial law clerk for the federal district court in San Francisco, and recently was hired as an attorney with the San Francisco law firm Durie Tangri.

But his ultimate goal was to work for the American Civil Liberties Union, according to Abrams-Bourke.

Helping people is what drove him.

“He could really step outside of himself and care and listen to other people and feel their struggles, and want to help,” Abrams-Bourke said.

District Judge Jon Tigar said in a statement that Walrath was an “exceptional” law clerk in his chambers.

”So supportive to us”

Friends of Barrett Clark, 35, say the popular sound engineer at the San Francisco club The Bottom of the Hill appeared to be everywhere.

Parker T. Gibbs, chief operating officer at Magnolia Media Productions, said when he'd walk into a rave full of strangers, he'd always spot Clark.

“I knew where I'd be for the rest of the night,” Gibbs said. “Right next to him.”

Authorities have listed Clark among the missing.

Friends say the Santa Rosa native was a sound engineer and DJ who was a “standup guy” and appeared always ready to help musicians and fellow DJs.

“Mourning Barrett Clark — so supportive to us,” composer and musician Holly Herndon tweeted Monday. “Played mesmeric live techno. Best sound engineer. Always laughing & making things work for ppl.”

Lynn Schwarz, co-owner of The Bottom of the Hill, said Clark was the engineer she hired to impress popular bands.

“You couldn't shock the guy,” Schwarz said. “He had all kinds of friends.”

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