Oakland Fire Victims: Music Therapist, Attorney, Teacher and More - NBC 10 Philadelphia
National & International News
The day’s top national and international news

Oakland Fire Victims: Music Therapist, Attorney, Teacher and More

Many of those who died Friday were said to be free spirits who loved to express themselves

    processing...

    NEWSLETTERS

    Oakland Fire Victims: Music Therapist, Attorney, Teacher and More
    Getty Images
    A man lights a candle at a vigil for the victims of a warehouse fire that has claimed the lives of at least thirty-six people on December 5, 2016 in Oakland, California. The fire took place during a musical event late Friday night. (Photo by Elijah Nouvelage/Getty Images)

    The Oakland warehouse fire took the lives of musicians, artists and others trying to break down barriers with their performances.

    Among them was a female disc jockey who encouraged women to get involved in the male-dominated scene of electronic music. A promoter who sought to launch the careers of new underground talent. An artist who had fought to stay true to herself.

    The death toll from the Friday night fire that ripped through the dance party in the converted warehouse remained at 36 on Tuesday and Alameda County Sheriff Gregory Ahern told The Associated Press he didn't believe more bodies would be found.

    Here's a closer look at who they were:

    FEMALE DJ BREAKING DOWN BARRIERS
    Chelsea Faith Dolan was a brilliant 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 a promoter dedicated to bringing people together and showcasing new performers, Bhatt said.

    His death was confirmed by city officials on Tuesday.

    Bhatt was grateful for Danemayer for persuading him to do his first live solo show, a door he opened to many others.

    He often projected films on a wall during other artists' sets, and was doing so the night of the fire.

    "He was really a multifaceted person and talented as hell," Bhatt said. "He was so passionate for the underground, for people to have a chance."

    HER TRUE SELF
    Feral Pines, 29, a musician and artist from Connecticut, recently moved to San Francisco 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."

    Ben Fritz said the family was notified Sunday night that Pines, born Riley Fritz, was killed in the fire.

    Their father, Bruce Fritz, told the San Francisco Chronicle he was flying to Oakland on Monday to identify the body. He said he would be joined by Ben Fritz, who lives in Los Angeles.

    Feral 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.

    Crowd Mourns Victims of Oakland Warehouse FireCrowd Mourns Victims of Oakland Warehouse Fire

    Hundreds of people attended a vigil along Lake Merritt in Oakland, California, on Monday night, holding candles to honor those who died in the fire that erupted during a dance party in a warehouse.
    (Published Tuesday, Dec. 6, 2016)

    FINDING THEIR PLACE THROUGH MUSIC
    Ben 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 his band.

    Runnels formed the group Introflirt with Nicole Renae Siegrist, known as "Denalda," who is among the missing.

    They named their last album "Temporary Heaven" to describe the fleeting nature of life and the moments of happiness when you feel completely comfortable with who you are, no matter how different from others you may be, Dreaper said.

    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. I know people connected to them. The music did that for them, as well. It made them feel happy about themselves."

    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. Runnels' roommate, Johnnie Igaz, is listed among the missing.

    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.

    She said the family is awaiting formal notification of her death.

    THE HEART OF OAKLAND
    Ara Jo was a vibrant artist and community organizer who could make friends with anyone, anywhere, friends said.

    Jo, 29, 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, was the father of twin toddlers. He was a director and producer who worked with Spike Lee and Talib Kweli.

    His fiancé, Hanna Henrikka Ruax, is listed as missing. Ruax is a yoga instructor, entrepreneur and activist visiting 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 #JerseyCity so much at times," he wrote.

    Ruax, meanwhile, is a social justice activist who organized a large protest in Finland after a neo-Nazi rally in that European country, Babu said. "She is very gentle," he 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!"

    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-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 live, 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.

    OTHER VICTIMS
    The city of Oakland also identified David Clines, 35, of Oakland, and Brandon Chase Wittenauer, 32, of Hayward, as victims.

    Another victim has been identified, but officials said they were withholding the name because the person was 17 years old.

    One of the people killed was the son of a local deputy, Kelly said Sunday. He did not release the name.

    ***

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

    RISING DJ IN SAN FRANCISCO SCENE
    Griffin Madden was a DJ who was increasingly becoming an important promoter in San Francisco, 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."

    Madden was listed as missing.

    LIKE A BROTHER
    Peter Wadsworth was thoughtful, caring and always willing to lend a hand, his friend Tammy Tasoff said.

    Tasoff, 29, 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, crying. "He'd make me food. He took really good care of me. He was like my big brother."

    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, vulnerable, 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. "Not everyone is equipped to help in that way, and he knew he was, you know, and that was his gift."

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

    "Nick brought his brilliant intellect, cogent writing skills, curiosity and relentless work ethic to everything he did," Tigar wrote.

    'SO SUPPORTIVE TO US'
    Barrett Clark, 35, was a popular sound engineer at the San Francisco club, The Bottom of the Hill. And his friends say he 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."

    PHOTOGRAPHER WHO LOVED MUSIC
    Friends and family were holding out hope that photographer Amanda Allen, 34, would be found safe.

    The Chelmsford, Massachusetts, native is a dancer with a passion for music, loved ones told The Lowell Sun.

    "We are all praying for a miracle and coming together as a family," said her mother, Linda Smith Regan.

    Allen's husband, Andy Kershaw, a DJ, called her vibrant and magnetic.

    Allen graduated from Bridgewater State University in 2004. She and Kershaw moved to San Francisco from Boston in 2008.

    Chelmsford native Shannon Fisher said Allen took ballet as a child and later embraced "that underground musical life." Fisher described Allen as smart and funny, with a laugh that comes easily.

    A photography website belonging to Allen says she shoots portraits and events.

    A REVOLUTIONARY
    Johnny Igaz, 34, reportedly was playing a set when the fire broke out and was among those still unaccounted for Tuesday.

    A close friend recalled him as a thoughtful, talented DJ who was involved in music throughout his life.

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

    He loved synthesizers and electronic music and had been offering 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.

    His Facebook page was filled with tearful posts from friends who called him a beautiful soul and a true friend.