‘I miss you more than you can imagine’: Grief after another mass shooting
Twelve people were killed when a gunman opened fire inside a crowded bar late Wednesday in Southern California, including a sheriff ’s deputy who had rushed inside to help. Here are the stories of some of the victims.
Sean Adler, 48
Sean Adler had his heart set on becoming a deputy with the Los Angeles County Sheriff ’s Department, according to a story about him in the Simi Valley Acorn newspaper. But then he had a heart attack after running a couple of miles during academy training last year.
So at 48, according to the Acorn, he chased a new dream: becoming an entrepreneur. He and a business partner opened a coffee shop in Simi Valley, Calif. Less than a month ago, Rivalry Roasters held its grand opening.
“When you’re passionate about what you do, it doesn’t feel like work; that’s what Rivalry Roasters is for me,” Adler told the Valley Acorn last month. “It’s not always easy to make ends meet, and I even work security at bars at night to help cover expenses, but I love what I’m doing.”
One of those bars where he worked as a bouncer: Borderline Bar & Grill.
The wrestling team at Royal High School in the Simi Valley Unified School District posted Thursday afternoon on Facebook that Adler had been killed at Borderline. “Sean was our strength coach a few years back. He was transitioning careers and still made time for our team. He traveled with us through some of the roughest times we had as a program. He was positive, motivational, and truly wanted the best for the people around him.”
Simi Valley High School’s wrestling coach, Chad Davidson, said he coached with Adler at Royal High when they were both assistants. “He was an awesome guy,” Davidson said. Everyone always says, “You couldn’t have met a nicer guy” about people, he said. “But for Sean, that was actually true. Always had a smile on his face and always ready to start a conversation.
“Sean has children, who he loved dearly and bragged about. They are who I am fervently praying for.” —Susan Svrluga
Blake Dingman, 21
His voice quiet and cracking, Dan Dingman said his family found out late Thursday that their 21-year-old son — Blake Dingman — died in the Thousand Oaks shooting.
“It’s just so brutal,” the father said in a telephone interview. “We are not doing well. His younger sibling is finally asleep after a long, long night.”
Dingman played high school baseball at Hillcrest Christian School in Thousand Oaks, his family said. He also loved offroading and was described as “easygoing and fun-loving and a great athlete.”
His brother, Aidan, who is 18, wrote in an Instagram post, “the pain I am feeling. Last night my life was changed forever. I received news of gunfire at Borderline Bar & Grille from a friend. Which was where my brother was hanging out for the night. Me, my dad, and mom raced to the scene. Or as close as we could get. We tried for hours and hours to get in touch with Blake and got no response. At 12:00 this morning I was informed that my amazing brother was taken down by the shooter as well as his good friend Jake Dunham. Blake, I love you so much and I miss you more than you can imagine. #805strong.”
The two brothers were very close, Dan Dingman said.
The family gathered Friday morning, taking in the loss. Dingman’s great-aunt, Janet Dingman of Thousand Oaks, described him as “someone you were always proud of. Such a fun, loving person. We are just in a horrible place.” —Emily Wax-Thibodeaux
Jacob Dunham, 21
Jacob Dunham was the guy who took a tense situation and made it funny. He struggled in his young life, with hemophilia and blindness in one eye, said his mother, Kathy Dunham. “Even though he had all these obstacles, he did everything to the fullest.”
His mother said her son’s death at Borderline Bar & Grill was made all the worse by the details she learned from the coroner. Dunham, out for the night with his close friend, Blake Dingman, was hiding in a bathroom stall when the gunman found him. “He tried. He tried to hide. That makes it even worse,” she said.
In life, Dunham was a “wonderful kid,” his mother said. “He’s the first one to get your back.”
He lived with his parents and sister, a tightknit family, she said. His favorite things to do: riding dirt bikes, working on his truck and hanging out with friends. He even rebuilt a diesel truck using only instructions from the Internet — and he loved to race it. Over the Fourth of July holiday this year, she said, he went to the lake with buddies, took out a ski boat and hoisted a huge American flag.
A friend, Mackenzie Souser, said she was a recent addition to Dunham’s group of friends and that he made her feel welcome from the start. “His little jokes made everyone feel loved and included,” she said.
She remembered once when a group of friends got back from a road trip — the trip had been Dunham and Dingman’s idea. They were “super hungry,” and there was a ton of traffic. No one was in a particularly good mood as they pulled up, exhausted and haggard, into a chicken joint. Dunham made the whole crew laugh when he put his thumbs into his belt loops and proclaimed, “Welcome to the [expletive] Santa Barbara Chicken Ranch.”
“We spent the whole time joking how there’s no chicken there,” she said.
He was always joking as a child, too, his mother said. Once, about age 12, he came running home to tell her, “The cops are coming! The cops are coming!” Upon questioning, he explained that there was a couch cushion on fire in a field and then, suddenly, there were sirens.
“He said, ‘Well, Mom, we set it on fire.’ ” Why? “‘Well, we were cold,’ ” she recalled him saying. (At the time, she said, it was about 89 degrees out.) Jake added that they had tried to put the fire out. How? “We peed on it.”
Another family story: When he was 12, he tried to buy condoms at the 7-Eleven, just as a joke.
“If there’s anything crazy out there no one else will do, Jake will be the one to instigate it or activate it. Jake was the party starter.”
Mark Meza, 20
Mark Meza was a friendly, outgoing employee who had a great rapport with everyone at the Sandpiper Lodge, a Santa Barbara, Calif., hotel where he worked as a housekeeper. “He was an extremely nice young man, extremely personable,” said Shawn Boteju, the hotel’s general manager.
Boteju remembered how happy Meza was when he received a hoverboard as a gift from his father, and how well Meza learned to use it. “It’s a shock — such a young guy.”
On a Facebook page, Meza wrote that he had studied photography at Santa Barbara City College. Luz Reyes-Martin, a college spokeswoman, said Meza last studied there in 2014. “The entire [Santa Barbara City College] community mourns this tragic loss of bright, young, promising lives. We send our deepest sympathies to the friends and family of the victims. We are heartbroken to learn of Mark’s death.”
Heather Ntem, an employee with the Kelly Marsh Team at Cornerstone Home Lending, wrote in an email, “The family asks for privacy during this time. They are grateful for the love, support, and prayers from their family, friends, and community.”
Kristina Morisette, 20
Brandon Bohning remembers Kristina Morisette all the way back to kindergarten. They were good friends, he said, through elementary school and saw each other regularly since then.
“She was the cool girl in the group,” he said. “She had a lot of friends. Every time I saw her, she was always just so friendly, so caring. She just brought a good vibe everywhere she went.”
He said she worked as a cashier at Borderline Bar & Grill, and witnesses said she was probably the first person the shooter saw after entering the bar.
“She had a lot of genuine friends and a lot of friends who cared about her,” he said.
Joseph Kaesberg, 19, a friend since high school, recalled that Morisette was always there when friends needed her — like the time he had to put down his dog. Morisette called and texted to check on Kaesberg and asked if he wanted to grab lunch or dinner, just to get out of the house.
“She was always so full of life, so happy, such a positive person, always brought so much enjoyment and peace to everything,” he said.
She had just returned from Texas a few days ago, where she was interviewing for an internship training police dogs, Kaesberg said. “She told some of us it went really well,” he said.
Telemachus Orfanos, 27
Telemachus Orfanos was a Navy veteran who survived last year’s mass shooting at a countrymusic festival in Las Vegas only to perish in a hail of bullets at the Borderline Bar & Grill.
His father, Marc Orfanos, described his son, who went by “Tel,” as a gregarious and kindhearted young man who made friends easily and traversed the globe in search of new experiences.
He was an Eagle Scout, the highest rank in the Boy Scouting program, and played the tuba in elementary school. In high school, he enjoyed history.
Two years after his 2009 graduation from Thousand Oaks High School, Orfanos went into the Navy. He was stationed on Whidbey Island, in Washington state, and in the Far East, where crews were “trolling for Chinese and North Korean submarines,” his father said. He went as far north as the northern part of the Sea of Japan and all the way down to Indonesia.
“He wanted to serve his country,” his father said. “And he wanted to see the world.”
When he was in training in San Diego, he and his friends would hop on the train and head up to Thousand Oaks to stay at his family’s home for the weekend. “His buddies would crash on the floor,” recalled his 63-year-old father, a semiretired substitute teacher.
Orfanos enlisted in 2011 and served as a sonar technician surface seaman, according to a spokeswoman for the U.S. Navy. He left the service in December 2013 and was awarded a National Defense Service Medal, a Global War on Terrorism Service Medal and a Pistol Marksmanship Ribbon.
Orfanos is also survived by his mother and his younger brother.
After about two-and-a-half years in the Navy, Orfanos moved home to Thousand Oaks, where he had lived most of his life. He began work at a local Infiniti dealership.
He liked a variety of music, including country music, his father said. He especially enjoyed the “sense of camaraderie” at Borderline Bar & Grill, the largest country dance hall and live music venue in Ventura County. Several of his friends who had been with him Wednesday night were “crying uncontrollably” when they learned of his death, his father said.
Mark Wermers, the scoutmaster of Orfanos’s Boy Scout troop, recalled him as a quiet but hardworking and dedicated teenager. Wermers said Orfanos was principled and lived his life by Boy Scout values. He said he imagined Orfanos was helping people in his final moments.
“He was a great Boy Scout,” Wermers said.
The senior Orfanos said his son was at the Route 91 Harvest festival last year in Las Vegas when a gunman opened fire from a highrise hotel. His son was enlisted by paramedics to help drag the bodies of the dead and injured from the line of fire, he said.
“He was a very kind person,” Orfanos said. “He would always try to help people.”
The Navy veteran was haunted by the experience in Las Vegas, his father said, and entered therapy to cope with post-traumatic stress disorder.
Orfanos was something of a gun enthusiast, his father said. But his parents wouldn’t allow him to keep a firearm in the house. And, he added, the 27-year-old recognized the need to limit access to certain high-power weapons.
After they learned of their son’s death, the parents issued an urgent call for gun control.
“I don’t want prayers. I don’t want thoughts. I want gun control,” Susan Orfanos, his mother, said on local TV. —Isaac Stanley-Becker, Moriah Balingit and