Our entire SEIU family mourns with the families of those affected by last week’s attacks. Our hearts are broken with the tragic loss of our fallen and injured sisters and brothers in San Bernardino.
Their jobs were to keep their communities healthy. They worked for the health department to keep our food, restaurants, pools, water treatment systems and public facilities safe. An office holiday party highlighting their milestones, contributions and achievements brought them together on the morning of December 2, 2015. Their department, referred to as the “little United Nations,” was woven from a diverse and rich cultural quilt that makes America great.
Today, we show our unity and share our continued support by dedicating this memorial page to the 14 who lost their lives that day.
Robert Adams, 40, Yucaipa, Environmental Health Specialist I, SEIU 721
Described by his wife, Summer, as someone who lived life to the fullest, Adams never gave up on his dream to become a registered environmental health specialist. It took him eight years to complete his degree with online records showing he had worked for the San Bernardino County Department of Health since 2011. A devoted husband and father to a 20-month-old toddler, Adams and his wife were planning little Savannah’s first trip to Disneyland this week.
Bennetta Betbadal, 46, Rialto, Environmental Health Specialist II, SEIU 721
At 18, Betbadal fled to America to escape the extremism that followed the Iranian Revolution. She married a police officer, became a mother and after graduating from Cal Poly Pomona with a degree in chemistry, took a job as an inspector with the county’s health department. In a statement from her family, they describe how she loved her job, community and country. On the day she was killed, BetBadal and her husband exchanged texts and planned to shop for Christmas presents to place under a tree she had decorated.
Harry "Hal" Bowman, 46, Upland
One of the more recent hires at the Department of Public Health, Bowman had just switched careers. He joined the county recently as a statistical analyst after working for several years as an expert in software, mapping and data sets at the University of Southern California’s counter-terrorism center, dedicated to guiding authorities in planning and decision making. Friends say he loved the outdoors and neighbors say he would teach his daughter how to swim. On the morning he was killed, a package arrived at his apartment from his mother; she said it contained Christmas presents.
Sierra Clayborn, 27, Moreno Valley, Environmental Health Specialist I, SEIU 721
On the morning of the shootings, Clayborn was about to receive another award for her work. Proud of her achievements, she described her job on her LinkedIn profile as “making a difference daily by protecting people where they live, work and play.” As concerned friends and acquaintances reached out via her Facebook page to check in after news of the shootings, they were reminded of her caring attitude toward others as her last profile picture had been updated to add the filter of the French flag to reflect her concern for victims of the Paris attacks.
Juan Espinoza, 50, Highland, Environmental Health Specialist II, SEIU 721
Espinoza appreciated the value of an education in building a better life for his family. A Mexican immigrant, he worked at the Department of Corrections to put himself through Cal State San Bernardino. His degree enabled him to take a job as an environmental health inspector, which he found incredibly fulfilling. Espinoza attributed his success in life to education and constantly reminded his children, inspiring his eldest child to earn a bachelor’s degree with honors.
Isaac Amanios, 60, Fontana, Environmental Health Specialist II, SEIU 721
In Eritrea, Amanios dodged bullets in the fight for independence and immigrated to the United States to escape the violence in his homeland, drawn by opportunities to create a stable and secure future for his family. Co-workers remember him as a dedicated family man who often spoke about looking forward to his three children graduating from college. His wife, who works as a registered nurse at an area hospital, spent the night after the shootings driving from hospital to hospital, hoping he might have been admitted for injuries. She found out otherwise the next day.
Aurora Godoy, 26, San Jacinto, Office Assistant
The youngest of the 14 victims, Godoy had fulfilled her main goals in life: go to school, get married, have a child and buy a house. One by one she had checked them off since meeting husband, James, in an ROTC program: attended several colleges and a culinary school; married her high school sweetheart; purchased a home; and welcomed a son, Alexander, who will turn 2 next month.
Shannon Johnson, 45, Los Angeles, Environmental Health Specialist II, SEIU 721
“I got you.” Johnson’s final words as he shielded co-worker Denise Peraza while bullets flew around them. Peraza released a statement detailing his final moments calling him her friend and hero. She fondly remembers the Georgia native who often regaled colleagues with stories of his home state and travels around the country driving 18-wheelers. Seeking a life with more stability, he attended college, graduated and joined the county’s health department, which he described as the “United Nations” and loved his workplace for its diversity with workers represented from around the globe.
Daniel Larry Kaufman, 42, Rialto, coffee shop manager in the Inland Regional Center
Kaufman, who loved helping others, ran the “Coffee N More” cart at the Inland Regional Center, where the holiday party for county employees was being held. He worked with developmentally challenged clients in his role as a job trainer teaching them employment and life skills such as learning how to make drinks, taking orders, serving customers and using the cash register. According to Kaufman warned and pushed people out of the way as bullets whizzed by and is credited with saving lives.
Damian L. Meins, 58, Riverside, Environmental Health Specialist II, SEIU 721
Meins heeded the call of priests at his Catholic high school to always serve the community. He loved being a public servant and after 28 years as a Riverside County employee, he decided to retire to care for his ailing mother. Riverside did not forget his dedication and years of service, bestowing a community recognition award. Meins missed work so much he returned to county work by joining the San Bernardino County’s Environmental Health Services Department recently. Known for his jovial nature, the new county employee was recruited to host the office holiday party.
Tin T. Nguyen, 31, Santa Ana, Environmental Health Specialist II, SEIU 721
As communism swept Vietnam and soldiers ransacked their farm, Nguyen, her mother and grandparents feared for their lives and fled to America, settling in Orange County where they found safety and refuge. Nguyen, a food inspector, had been looking forward to getting married next year. Per tradition, she and her fiancé discussed getting a home with enough room for her mother to live with them. Nguyen and her mother, who had been through so much together, checked in with each other several times a day. But on December 2, her mother’s messages were met with silence.
Nicholas Thalasinos, 52, Colton, Environmental Health Specialist II, SEIU 721
Thalasinos’s career was in the field of environmental health. For 14 years he worked as a health inspector for the Cape May County in New Jersey. Love brought him across the country to California 14 years ago to be with his wife, Jennifer, after the two met online. Described by a family friend as someone who loved helping others, Thalasinos cared for his wife’s parents. After the shootings, Thalasinos’s wife received a text from a colleague who credited him with saving her life — although already hit by gunfire, he told her to get under the table.
Yvette A. Velasco, 27, Fontana, Environmental Health Specialist I, SEIU 721
Velasco was looking forward to the holiday party and training luncheon scheduled for December 2. She was scheduled to receive a gold badge officially recognizing her as a county health inspector after passing an exam to become a state-registered environmental health specialist. Five years of hard work at the health department had paid off, starting in vector control collecting mosquitoes near pools and puddles to test for diseases and working her way up. This week, county officials and the FBI met with her family to present them the badge she was due to receive.
Michael R. Wezel, 37, Lake Arrowhead, Supervising Environmental Health Specialist
It wasn’t hard to miss Wezel around Lake Arrowhead where he and his family lived about 40 minutes from San Bernardino. He would often be surrounded by a gaggle of six kids, made up of a blended family with children ranging in age from 1 to 14 with wife Renee. On the morning of the shootings, Wezel arranged for county inspector Julie Swann-Paez to receive the employee-of-the-year award for a job well done; he had put in a good word and written a glowing review of the work she was doing. Wezel died in the attack that killed 13 others; Paez is still in the hospital recovering from gunshot wounds.