April 26, 2019

Nicholas Thalasinos, a ‘Messianic Jew,’ among 14 murdered in San Bernardino terror attack

This story is being continuously updated. Latest update: Friday, Dec. 6, 10:30 p.m. (PT)

Among the fatalities in the deadly terrorist attack on the social services center in San Bernardino Wednesday that left 14 people dead and 21 wounded is Nicholas Thalasinos, 52, a “Messianic Jew” who worked at the Inland Regional Center, a county facility that assists people with developmental disabilities, as an environmental health specialist. 

Jennifer Thalasinos, Nicholas’ wife, told the New York Times that she and her husband were “devout Messianic Jews,” a religious group that identifies as Jewish but considers Jesus to be the messiah, combining elements of Judaism with core Christian doctrine. Jewish religious leaders and denominations do not consider Messianic Judaism to be Jewish. On Thalasinos’ Facebook page, he regularly posted politically conservative articles, was outspoken against liberals and about the threat of radical Islam, and supportive of Israel and gun ownership rights. 

In one photo with his wife, Thalasinos is seen wearing a tallit, a Jewish prayer shawl. In a post Wednesday evening by Kuuleme Stephens, who identifies herself as Thalasinos’ younger sister, she wrote, “This shooting happened hours ago and I haven’t heard a word from my big brother Nicholas Thalasinos! He always answers his phone, even it’s to say ‘Let me call you back in a minute sis!’ Please pray for him and my sis Jennifer Thalasinos at this time! Pray that we get some news soon, and he gets home safe and sound.” Since news of Thalasinos’ murder broke, his Facebook page has been changed to that of a “remembering” status, and his wall is filled with condolences.

Vince Armijo, who identified himself  as the church leader at Shiloh Messianic Congregation, which meets weekly in Crestline and Calimesa, near to San Bernardino, told the Journal that Nicholas, who went by Nick with friends, was a member of the church for three years, had renewed his marriage vows with Jennifer six months ago under a chuppah, and “loved Torah.”

“He’s the type of man … [who] always stayed until the end; helped us put everything away,” Armijo said.

Jennifer told the Times her husband had worked alongside and been friendly with Syed Rizwan Farook, 28, who has been identified as the man who, with his wife, Tashfeen Malik, 27, stormed the center on Wednesday dressed in tactical gear and armed with semiautomatic rifles and pistols. There's no indication that Thalasinos was targeted for his religious or political beliefs, although the Boston Globe reported that Farook and Thalasinos had a “heated conversation” two weeks ago about Islam. Whether that played any role in Farook targeting the Inland Regional Center is unknown.

Inside the center Wednesday, Farook and Malik unloaded dozens of rounds of ammunition into a room where some of Farook’s coworkers were celebrating a holiday party. Before fleeing the scene, Farook and Malik left behind an explosive made of three pipe bombs, which did not detonate. 

San Bernardino police officials later collected 1,600 rounds of ammunition from the couple’s car, and found nearly 5,000 additional rounds and 12 pipe bombs at their apartment in nearby Redlands, indicating that the attack had been planned.

Through Wednesday afternoon and evening, police pursued Farook and Malik throughout the area, and eventually killed both of them in a shootout that also left one officer wounded. San Bernardino police chief Jarrod Burguan said all four weapons collected from Farook and Malik had been purchased legally.

The FBI, which is leading the investigation, announced Friday afternoon that it's investigating the massacre as “an act of terrorism.” Also on Friday, federal officials reported that Malik pledged allegiance on Facebook on the day of the massacre to ISIS's leader, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi. Investigators also found the couple's cell phones near the attack site, but they were smashed, and they can't find the hard drive that Farook and Malik had in their computer.

Farook, an American citizen, was born in Illinois to Pakistani parents and was reportedly a practicing Muslim who traveled to Saudi Arabia multiple times, including in 2013 to Mecca for a hajj, the annual pilgrimage Muslims are required to make at least once in their lifetime. Malik entered the U.S. in July 2014 with Farook, coming here with a Pakistani passport and a three-month visa typical for a fiancée planning to marry an American citizen. She was granted a conditional green card in July. The couple had a six-month-old child, whom they left with a relative Wednesday morning before beginning their rampage.

The New York Times is reporting that the FBI has determined Farook “was in touch with people domestically and abroad who have Islamist extremist views.”

Armijo said Thalasinos regularly came to weekly Shabbat services at the church, and sometimes to Torah classes at its Calimesa location. Armijo said Thalasinos “was very faithful on Shabbat” and was looking forward to visiting Israel for the first time next year with the congregation.

“We’re really at a hard place right now,” Armijo said. “His wife is still in shock, but she’ll be there on the Sabbath morning.”