OAKLAND, Calif. (KDKA/AP) — Nick Walrath texted his girlfriend from inside a burning warehouse in Oakland, California, saying there was a fire and that he loved her.
Alexis Abrams-Bourke said Monday that Walrath, 31, was among the missing following the warehouse fire that claimed three dozen lives. She spoke between sobs with the Associated Press as she described him as a wonderful person who was open and vulnerable and goofy and generous.
“I feel like my future has been ripped from me,” she said.
Walrath was a Pittsburgh native. He grew up in Point Breeze and attended Taylor Allderdice High School. He received a bachelor of science in physics and philosophy from Massachusetts Institute of Technology in 2007. In 2013, he received a law degree from New York University School of Law.
David Ghogomu knew Nicholas Walrath would go far in life.
He was Walrath’s French teacher for two years at Taylor Allderdice High School and says Walrath was a model student. Walrath graduated from Taylor Allderdice in 2003.
“I expected he would excel in the world and unfortunately his life was cut short,” Ghogomu said. “He was very compliant. A gentle man. Somebody who always wanted to please the teacher and made sure his work was complete and done the way you wanted it to be.”
When Ghogomu learned that Walrath is among the missing in the Oakland, Calif. warehouse fire, he couldn’t believe it.
“You don’t ever want to hear of somebody being in such a situation but somebody you really like it’s a shock and horrible to me,” Ghogomu said.
Walrath grew up on Rosewood Street in Point Breeze. Neighbors say his parents flew out to Oakland when they learned of the fire.
Walrath and Abrams-Bourke moved together from New York City after he got a job as a clerk for the San Francisco-based 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals. He spent a year working as a judicial law clerk for the federal district court in San Francisco, and recently was hired as an attorney with the San Francisco law firm Durie Tangri. In a statement, the firm said it believes Walrath is among those who died in the fire.
“We are deeply saddened by the tragic loss of our friend and colleague. In the short time he had been at our firm, Nick already had shown himself to be a fine lawyer as well as a good and caring person. Our thoughts are with his family and his loved ones, who had been blessed to know Nick far better than we had the chance to, and whose loss is thus so much greater than our own.”
Walrath’s ultimate goal was to work for the American Civil Liberties Union, according to Abrams-Bourke.
Helping people is what drove him.
“He could really step outside of himself and care and listen to other people and feel their struggles, and want to help,” Abrams-Bourke said. “Not everyone is equipped to help in that way, and he knew he was, you know, and that was his gift.”
District Judge Jon Tigar said in a statement that Walrath was an “exceptional” law clerk in his chambers.
“Nick brought his brilliant intellect, cogent writing skills, curiosity and relentless work ethic to everything he did,” Tigar wrote.
Late Monday, the Alameda County Coroner’s Bureau released the names of 10 fire victims who have been positively identified. Those are in addition to 7 names previously released. Walrath’s name was not among them. At least 36 people were killed.
The fire erupted Friday night during an underground dance party at a building known as the “Ghost Ship.” Investigators are now looking at whether a refrigerator or another appliance was the source of the fire. They’re examining anything electrical on the first floor, near where the fire started.
We also now know that some of the victims were found hugging each other when they died.
A sergeant in the sheriff’s department told a newspaper that one fire victim texted her mom: “I love you. I’m going to die, mom.”
While it’s unclear who might be charged in this tragedy, people familiar with the building say there were no fire alarms, no sprinklers, and no signs to let anyone know where the back stairs were.
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