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Victim of San Bernardino terror attack is recalled as ‘one of the good guys’

Damian Meins

Pallbearers carry the casket of Damian Meins to an awaiting hearse after funeral services at St. Catherine of Alexandria.

(Gina Ferazzi / Los Angeles Times)

Damian Meins was “one of the good guys” — a smart, kindhearted public servant who liked working in environmental health enough that he returned to it in San Bernardino County even after retiring from decades of work in Riverside County, friends recalled at a memorial service in Riverside.

Meins and 13 others were killed Dec. 2 when Syed Rizwan Farook and his wife, Tashfeen Malik, burst into a holiday gathering for San Bernardino County workers and shot them.

On Friday, hundreds of friends, co-workers and family recalled Meins, 58, at a service at St. Catherine of Alexandria Catholic School in Riverside, where he worshiped for many years, dating back to his days as a student at Notre Dame High School across the street.

Across town, Anies Kondoker, one of 22 injured in the attack, visited her mosque for Friday prayers for the first time since leaving the hospital. She was shot in both arms and in the stomach while walking from the bathroom into the party.

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“I’m doing OK,” Kondoker said at the Islamic Center of Riverside. “I’m glad I’m here.”

The 36 victims of the attack were as diverse as the region itself: white, Asian, African American, Latino. One had fled Eritrea to escape violence, another had come from the Middle East for the same reason.

Kondoker emigrated from Indonesia. When she arrived at the mosque Friday, she had just come from viewing the body of her best friend, Tin Nguyen, who was killed in the shooting. Nguyen was 8 when she and her mother fled Vietnam.

Kondoker said she has spent the days since the shooting attending memorials and funerals, going to “as many as I could.” But because so many of her co-workers died, she said, in some cases the ceremonies overlapped.

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At Meins’ funeral, friends and family wore black and green ribbons — black for mourning and green for environmental health, they said. A memorial program showed photos of Meins vacationing with his wife and daughters and an image of his wedding day.

The service was presided over by Bishop Gerald R. Barnes of the Diocese of San Bernardino.

Meins and his family have deep ties to the local Catholic church. His daughter, Tawnya, is a 6th-grade teacher at St. Catherine of Alexandria School. His wife, Trenna, is the principal of Sacred Heart Parish School in Rancho Cucamonga.

Juan C. Perez, who worked with Meins in Riverside County, said Meins was a particularly kindhearted, even-keeled co-worker.

“I never knew him to get upset or angry,” he said. “He really was one of the good guys.”

Steve Van Stockum, director of the Riverside County Department of Environmental Health, said he’d known Meins since they were 9 years old.

Meins had been working at a supermarket when he developed an interest in environmental health and decided to get training so that he could enter the field, Van Stockum recalled.

All of the kind things people said about Meins on Friday, “they’re all true,” Van Stockum said.

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“He was always there for you as a friend,” he said — even if it meant helping pick up a load of bricks from Home Depot.

Michael Young, who went to high school and college with Meins, recalled his friend as “one of the smartest people in our class.”

“It’s a shame we have to be here today,” Young said several times.

Robert Levi, who went to high school with Meins, said they were part of a group of about 15 friends at Notre Dame who have remained close.

“Basically, we were the nerds,” Levi recalled. Meins, he said, was the person “you always want on your side.”

Levi, a high school history teacher, said his friend’s death in a terrorist attack had brought world affairs closer to home than he had ever imagined.

“What a terrible world we live in sometimes,” he said.

In a sermon, the Rev. Art Mateo told mourners he believed Meins’ death, and that of the other victims of the San Bernardino attack, would lead to changes that would make society safer.

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“That is the only way I can make sense of the violent death of Damian Meins,” he said. “I know good will come of this.”

In addition to his wife and daughter Tawnya, Meins is survived by daughter Tina.

Less than a block from the Inland Regional Center, the site of last week’s attacks, posters and hundreds of candles and flowers fill the sidewalk in a memorial for those killed.

One sign, decorated with a collage of the victims’ faces and “14” encircled by a heart, reads: “To our loved ones, sorry you were not protected.”

A note to Yvette Velasco, a 27-year-old who was killed, reads, “My heart aches for your mom and sister. Love you guys.”

A sign on a fence shows another victim, Aurora Godoy, 26, in her wedding dress. Next to the image is another of Godoy with her husband and infant son, who will turn 2 in January.

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