IRWINDALE, California -- To a deep network of friends that grew bonds sometimes stronger than blood, Daniel Kaufman will be remembered most for his infectious smile and penchant for telling off-color jokes.
Members of that second family to Kaufman -- performers who meet here each year for the Renaissance Pleasure Faire -- gathered on Saturday to bid their farewells to a man who always made them laugh.
Dozens of close friends turned out for the memorial held at the Santa Fe Dam Recreational Area, some decked in full Renaissance garb at the campground where they would perform, dance and sing each year. It was one of several candlelit vigils held this week to honor the fallen victims in the San Bernardino shooting. But this one was personal.
Kaufman’s life ended in direct contrast with the way he lived, cut short by a pair of armed assailants who carried out a vicious attack on the Inland Regional Center on Wednesday. Kaufman, 42, ran the coffee shop at the center designed to help people with disabilities.
Authorities are investigating the shooting rampage as a terrorist attack carried out by newlywed couple Syed Rizwan Farook and Tashfeen Malik. Fourteen people were killed and another 21 wounded in a barrage of gunfire on Wednesday. The pair of perpetrators were later killed in a gunfight with police. The motive behind the attack remains unclear, however law enforcement officials have said that Farook, who worked at Inland, was believed to have been recently "radicalized;" his wife had pledged her allegiance to ISIS.
Still visibly shaken by the tragedy, Kaufman’s so-called “faire family” took Saturday to focus on the lighter side of his life, swapping stories about what they loved most about Kaufman. Those who didn’t know him by name certainly recognized him by his smile.
“His smile was always, always real. And you couldn’t not catch it from him,” recalled Deon Cleveland, who had been performing weekends with Kaufman for the last four years. “He’d always smile and laugh and flirt!”
Kaufman’s family had gone through the ringer this week, met first with terror and then hope, only to ultimately end with heartbreak.
When Kaufman’s boyfriend, Ryan Reyes, couldn’t reach him by phone in the immediate aftermath of the shooting, he rushed to the community center that had been converted into a staging ground for survivors. But Kaufman wasn’t there. Then hours later, a rumor spread on Facebook suggesting that Kaufman had made it out and was checked into the local hospital.
“It gave us that false hope because we were ‘OK good, he’s OK. He’s in surgery and was just shot in the arm, everything is going to be fine we just need to find out where he is,’” Reyes told MSNBC’s Thomas Roberts on Friday.
But when family members called around to each hospital asking for Kaufman’s status, he was still unaccounted for. They all went to bed that night still not knowing whether Kaufman was dead or alive.
“Thats when our hope started to dwindle,” Reyes said.
It wasn’t until the next morning that they received the call — Kaufman was gone.
Days later, longtime friends were still processing his death. “I have been shaken to the core,” one told the dozens others who gathered Saturday to remember him.
“Daniel’s deliciously-wicked sense of humor is one of the things I will miss the most,” said Wendy Shapard, who has known him for years. “His humor, no matter how salacious, was never mean.”
Through tears and some song, those who had grown to adore Kaufman while working long weekends at the Renaissance fair over the years sent him off as they would at the end of each season, with three joyful cheers.
Hip hip, HUZZAH! Hip hip, HUZZAH! Hip hip, HUZZAH!