Teens, young artists among California warehouse fire victims

AP Photo
AP Photo

OAKLAND, Calif. — Teenagers, the son of a sheriff’s deputy and young artists were among the dozens of people killed when a fire tore through a converted Oakland warehouse during a dance party.

The death toll from Friday night’s fire climbed to 36 on Monday with more bodies still feared buried in the rubble.

The victims included 17-year-olds and people from Europe and Asia, Alameda County Sheriff’s Sgt. Ray Kelly said. Here’s a closer look at who they were:

A GREAT FRIEND

A tearful Tammy Tasoff, 29, called Peter Wadsworth a best friend who was like an older brother to her.

The dental student said Wadsworth always 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, Tasoff said.

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.”

LOVED MUSIC

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 (http://wapo.st/2gZc0Qu) 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 and 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 had 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 (http://lat.ms/2g3oOTH)

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.

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, sobbing. “He’d make me food. He took really good care of me. He was like my big brother.”

PLAYED WITH A BAND

Nick Gomez-Hall, 25, was a 2013 graduate of Brown University in Providence, Rhode Island, where he concentrated in American Studies. He also was a graduate of Coronado High School in Southern California.

The Alameda County Coroner’s Office identified him as one of the fire victims.

While in Rhode Island, Gomez-Hall worked with Brown University’s Swearer Center for Public Service as a site coordinator for an after-school program at an elementary school, The Providence Journal reported (http://bit.ly/2g3agDv).

He also played guitar and sang with a band called Nightmom.

Friends who knew Gomez-Hall through the music scene said Monday he had recently moved back to California, the newspaper reported.

LONG-DISTANCE RELATIONSHIP

Among the missing are Alex Ghassan and his fiancée, Hanna Henrikka Ruax.

Ghassan is a director and producer who worked with Spike Lee and Talib Kweli. He also is the father of twin toddlers.

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 lived 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 (https://goo.gl/HFH3eN), 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!”

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 (http://bit.ly/2gISHNd).

“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 BEAUTIFUL SOUL

Kershaw said his friend and fellow DJ Johnny Igaz also was unaccounted for.

Igaz reportedly was playing a set when the fire broke out. He was listed on Facebook as a record buyer at Green Apple Books and Music in San Francisco.

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

STRONG ENOUGH TO BE HERSELF

Riley Fritz, 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 Riley, also known as Feral Pines, likely was killed in the fire.

Their father, Bruce Fritz, told the San Francisco Chronicle (http://bit.ly/2haW54C) he was flying to Oakland on Monday to identify Riley’s body. He said he would be joined by Ben Fritz, who lives in Los Angeles.

Riley Fritz 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.

Bruce Fritz said Riley was born Justin Riley Fritz and asked to be referred to as female after college. She was known as Justin to most in her hometown of Westport, Connecticut, where she played bass guitar in local bands, her father said.

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