Pastor delivers fiery eulogy at service for San Bernardino shooting victim; two other victims mourned
Nicholas Thalasinos was an outspoken conservative who railed on social media against radical Islam, liberals and political correctness.
At his memorial service Saturday, one of three held throughout the region for victims of the San Bernardino terrorist attacks, Thalasinos’ pastor took up his mantle with a fiery eulogy that he admitted might offend some, but was true to the spirit of the man he was honoring.
“There’s a cosmic battle going on between light and dark, between good and evil, between the Lord and ha-Satan,” Bruce Dowell, senior pastor at Shiloh Messianic Congregation, told those attending the Calimesa service, using the Hebrew word for the devil.
Speaking of the husband-and-wife terrorists who killed Thalasinos, Dowell said, “They went straight to hell. Don’t be deceived on that.” As congregants applauded wildly and shouted “Amen!” he added, “I realize that isn’t politically correct, but I really don’t care.”
His address was the culmination of a two-hour liturgy that emphasized Thalasinos’ deep devotion to the Messianic faith, which teaches that Jesus Christ was the Messiah while adhering to elements of traditional Judaism.
With Thalasinos’ wife, Jennifer, seated in the front row, church pastors and elders recalled how Nicholas Thalasinos, 52, always volunteered to help at Shabbat services and was eager to share his beliefs with newcomers and people he met in his job as a health inspector.
By some accounts, Thalasinos also argued over religion with Syed Rizwan Farook, his co-worker and one of the shooters in the Dec. 2 attack at the Inland Regional Center in which 14 people were killed.
Dowell appeared to reference those conversations, telling congregants that “Nicholas was threatened by this terrorist a couple of weeks before” the shooting.
Another speaker read a letter from a co-worker who was with Thalasinos when he was shot. The woman, identified only as “Morena,” said that even after he was struck by a bullet, he was concerned about her well-being.
“His last words to me were ‘Get under the table.’ And I did,” she wrote.
In South Los Angeles, hundreds of mourners gathered at Mount Moriah Baptist Church to celebrate the life of Sierra Clayborn.
Family members described the 27-year-old as ambitious and determined as well as an old soul and a peacemaker. After graduating with a biochemistry degree from UC Riverside, she took a job as an environmental health specialist for San Bernardino County. She worked there three years and had recently decided to apply to medical school, said her mother, Wendy Womack-Smith.
“I thought that her being an old soul that meant she was going to be here forever,” Womack-Smith said. “Unfortunately, I was wrong.”
The night before the county holiday potluck, where the shooting took place, Clayborn traded quiche recipes with her mother. On the ride to the center, Clayborn told colleague Leilah Kelsey how happy she was. Later, Clayborn was honored with an employee of the year award before the two assailants stormed the party and sprayed the room with bullets.
“I don’t know how we lost her,” Kelsey said as she fought back tears.
She remembered Clayborn, whose middle name was Sunshine, as jovial and family-oriented.
“She always told me how much she loved her family and friends,” Kelsey said at the service. “Thank you all for sharing her with us.”
At the Church of the Woods in Twin Peaks, near Lake Arrowhead, Michael Raymond Wetzel, 37, a father of six, was remembered by loved ones as the ultimate family man. He had no hobbies so he could spend more time with his kids.
“He adored being a dad,” Pastor Rod Akins told the hundreds of mourners who gathered for the memorial service. He told them that their tears were “little messengers of love” and that they should grieve “with hope, knowing that he is alive today as he has never been before,” thanks to the power of God’s love.
Wetzel’s uncle, Pastor Jim Orate of Calvary Chapel in Rancho Cucamonga, also offered consolation. “We can say that this moment is a pause because we will see Michael again,” he said.
Eric Jacobsen, a former county health worker, rode a vanpool with Wetzel to work for years. He said what he most remembered about his friend was his smile. “When I tried to envision what happened in that conference room” on the day of the shooting, “his smile wouldn’t yield,” leading Jacobsen to assume “it was Mike telling me he was OK.”
Kailee Wetzel, 12, told the gathering that she will always long for the memories she could have made with her father, “like you walking me down the aisle on my wedding day and you meeting your grandchildren.”
Funny tributes followed her touching words, as co-workers described Wetzel as a prankster, a boss who pounced when colleagues left their desk with their emails open. He would immediately send a love note from that employee to another, leaving the person struggling to explain. He always wanted to eat lunch at In-N-Out, and he was the guy who walked into a Thai restaurant and insisted on ordering a burrito.
On the morning of the attack, Wetzel’s alarm clock did not go off. It allowed him and his wife a few extra minutes to talk. Renee Wetzel said she sensed “God’s hands” in providing that stolen moment.
Then the couple kissed and hugged goodbye.
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