Officials say 36 people were killed in a devastating fire at a warehouse and artists’ space in Oakland, California, on Friday, Dec. 2.
As authorities began identifying the victims, friends and loved ones shared memories of the many young and vibrant lives cut short.
This photo from Facebook shows Oakland fire victim Brandon Chase Wittenauer, 32, of Hayward, California.
Wittenauer, a musician in San Francisco Bay area, 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.”
Cash Askew, 22
A Facebook photo of Oakland warehouse fire victim Cash Askew, 22, of Oakland, California.
Askew 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 grew up in a musical and artistic family and 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, The Associated Press reported.
Ashlyn said Askew recently started becoming “her best self” after she came out as transgender about two years ago.
David Clines, 35
A Facebook photo of Oakland warehouse fire victim David Clines, 35, of Oakland, California.
Nick Gomez-Hall, 25
Nick Gomez-Hall, 25, of Coronado, California, was a 2013 graduate of Brown University in Providence, Rhode Island.
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 and worked for an independent publisher, Counterpoint Press. The company 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 originally from Southern California and graduated from Coronado High School.
Travis Hough, 35
Travis Hough, 35, of Oakland, California, 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.
Sara Hoda, 30
A Facebook photo of Oakland warehouse fire victim Sara Hoda, 30, of Walnut Creek, California.
Hoda was a “sweet person” who gardened and taught at a Montessori school, friend Carol Crewdson told the Los Angeles Times.
Donna Kellogg, 32
Donna Kellogg, 32, of Oakland, California, was described as energetic and intelligent by friends and co-workers.
Josh Howes, an ex-boyfriend, said Kellogg was studying nutrition and wanted to be a healer, the East Bay Times reported.
Kellogg worked at Highwire Coffee Roasters, where founder Robert Myers said all her co-workers enjoyed connecting with her through their shared interests and her quirky sense of style.
Ara Jo, 29
This photo shows Ara Jo in New Orleans in 2012.
Friends called Jo a vibrant artist and community organizer who could make friends with anyone, anywhere.
“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.
Jo, 29, grew up in Los Angeles and was living in Oakland. Her parents flew in from South Korea after authorities confirmed her death in the fire.
Riley Fritz, 29
Riley Fritz, 29, known as Feral Pines, was a musician and artist from Connecticut who recently moved to San Francisco to be with friends.
“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,” her brother Ben Fritz, 39, told The Associated Press.
He said she appeared to be the “happiest she had been in a few years.”
She graduated from Staples High School in Westport in 2005 and the School for the Visual Arts in Manhattan in 2010.
Edmund Lapine, 34
Edmund Lapine, 34, was born in Ogden, Utah, and later went to a college in Colorado before 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.
“Even though he was more into electronic music toward the end of his life, he had kind of a punk rock sensibility,” his childhood friend Jess Nolan said. “He rejected everything that was corporate and fake.”
“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.
“I try to be strong, but I break down every once in a while,” he said.
Benjamin Runnels, 32
Benjamin Runnels, 32, Oakland, Calif., went to the warehouse show with his friends and fellow musicians Travis Hough and Nicole Siegrist, who also died.
Runnels and Siegrist formed the music group Introflirt. Runnels, who played guitar and sang, was introverted but connected to people through his music, said Brendan Dreaper, who helps operate Mixtape, the Oakland-based company that managed thee band.
Runnels was from the East Coast, and Siegrist the Midwest. They met in the Bay Area a few years ago and wanted to send a message to people who feel out of place.
“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. I know people connected to them. The music did that for them, as well. It made them feel happy about themselves.”
Nicole Siegrist, 29
Nicole Siegrist, 29, of Oakland, Calif., was described as 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.
She played the synthesizer and went to the concert with several friends and fellow musicians who also died in the fire.
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.
Jennifer Kiyomi Tanouye, 31
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 creative endeavors 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.
Vanessa Plotkin, 21
Vanessa Plotkin, 21, was a third-year student at the University of California-Berkeley, where she was majoring in sociology, CBS Los Angeles reports.
A family friend said Plotkin grew up in Lakewood, Calif., with a twin sister and two brothers. The friend described the sisters as sweet, very lovely and smart girls.
Chelsea Dolan, 33
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 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.
Alex Ghassan, 35
Alex Ghassan, 35, of Oakland, Calif., was a director and producer who worked with Spike Lee and Talib Kweli. He was the father of twin toddlers.
His fiancée, Hanna Henrikka Ruax,also died in the fire.
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.
Hanna Ruax, 32
Hanna Henrikka Ruax went to the Oakland warehouse concert with her fiancé, Alex Ghassan, who also died in the fire.
Ruax was a yoga instructor, entrepreneur and social justice activist from Helsinki, Finland. She arrived in Oakland in late November.
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!”
Alex Vega, 22
Alex Vega, 22, San Bruno, Calif., went to the party with his longtime girlfriend, Michela Gregory, 20, who also died in the fire.
His brother, Daniel Vega, said Alex had jobs as a valet and also worked with Gregory at a mortuary. 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.”
Michela Gregory, 20
Michela Gregory, 20, of South San Francisco, Calif., died in the Oakland warehouse fire along with her boyfriend, Alex Vega.
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.”
Jennifer Morris, 21
Oakland fire victim Jennifer Morris, 21, of Foster City, Calif.
Em Bohlka, 33
Em Bohlka, 33, was a poet with a master’s degree in literature.
Jack Bohlka told the Los Angeles Times that his daughter, who worked as a barista, was “just a completely loving individual, truly a gentle spirit, thoughtful and philosophical.”
Bohlka said he and Em 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.”
Johnny Igaz, 34
DJ Johnny Igaz, 34, reportedly was playing a set when the fire broke out.
Demitria Ruiz-Sauliere, who knew Igaz from the close-knit house and techno music scene, praised his “unique warmth and charisma” that 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, he 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.
Micah Danemayer, 28
Micah Danemayer, 28, was an Oakland promoter dedicated to bringing people together and showcasing new performers, said DJ Nihar Bhatt.
Danemayer worked for an ongoing experimental music series called “Trance Mutations,” under the company name of Obscura Machina. 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.
Amanda Kershaw, 34
Amanda Kershaw, 34, of San Francisco, died in the Oakland warehouse fire.
Griffin Madden, 23
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.”
The 17-year-old son of an Alameda County sheriff’s deputy was among those killed in the Oakland warehouse fire. Officials have not released his name.