If Dan Manrique were alive, his friends believe he’d be wondering what he could have done for the former Marine who walked into a crowded bar and started shooting.
Instead, Manrique, 33, who also served in the Marines, was one of 12 to die Wednesday night in the shooter’s spray of bullets at the Borderline Bar and Grill.
Friends and family said that he died trying to protect others — something he did every day as an advocate for veterans.
The former field radio operator served in the Marines from 2003 to 2007, including a 2007 deployment to Iraq, federal authorities confirmed. He rose to the rank of sergeant and earned multiple awards.
In 2012, an old friend and fellow veteran, Jaclyn Pieper, asked Manrique if he wanted to join the Ventura County chapter of Team Red, White and Blue, an organization that offers returning veterans a sense of community. Manrique immediately said yes. By the next year, she said, he was chapter president. It was a volunteer position that he eagerly filled.
Nearly every weekend for five years, Manrique would organize events for area veterans, including bowling nights and an annual workshop to teach disabled veterans to surf. They helped veterans used to military camaraderie settle more easily into life back home.
“Let’s say somebody went to the military right out of high school. … Their whole community as they know it has changed, and so it’s important to bring them in and let them know they’re accepted,” Pieper said.
She said she can’t help but think that if the shooter, Ian David Long, had been touched by her friend’s outreach, things might have been different.
If Manrique had survived, Air Force veteran Robert Felix said, he would have asked, “How could we have helped him?”
“I want to be mad, but I can’t because he is a Marine veteran,” Felix, a 48-year-old Team RWB volunteer, said of Long. “He’s a brother, and for whatever reason he didn’t get help.”
Authorities have said Long may have suffered from post-traumatic stress disorder after his military service in Afghanistan, though people who knew him in high school described him as an angry loner who started fights — and experts warn against conflating mental illness with an affinity for violence.
“Sgt. Manrique’s commitment to his fellow veterans is the epitome of what it means to remain semper fidelis — always faithful,” U.S. Marines Capt. Joseph Butterfield said in an emailed statement.
Manrique didn’t just offer up his spare hours to helping fellow veterans. From June 2017 until last month, he worked as a program manager at St. Joseph Center, an L.A.-based veterans’ social service organization. He ran a program that helped veterans get their benefits and spend the money responsibly, said Va Lecia Adams Kellum, the center’s president and CEO.
He always wanted to be hands-on, and he had the right disposition, Kellum said. Friends and colleagues described him as a comforting presence, quiet but friendly and open.
“He’s a very accepting person and I think that made him very special … because people come through our doors who have struggled,” Kellum said.
On Thursday, Mayor Eric Garcetti posted a photo of himself with Manrique on Instagram. He said they had met two years earlier, and that Manrique was trying “to help with the mission of ending homelessness in L.A.”
“I was very impressed by his heart, his help and his hope,” Garcetti wrote.
Manrique recently got a paying job as a regional program manager at Team RWB.
Marcos Manrique, 23, through tears, said that his brother had himself had “difficulty” adjusting to civilian life.
“The biggest irony,” Marcos Manrique said, “is that the people he wanted to help ended up turning a gun on him.”