Oakland, California fire mystery stories – http://www.mercurynews.com
A deadly fire burns on San Pablo and Mead avenues in Oakland, California, on March 27, 2017. (Laura A. Oda/ Bay Area News Group)
The fourth, unnamed victim in the 2551 San Pablo Ave. fire has been identified, but investigators can’t find his relatives and the Nigerian man’s life is a mystery. (Anda Chu/Bay Area News Group)
By MATTHIAS GAFNI |
OAKLAND — The man in Room 223 kept to himself. He loved computers and would sketch Oakland landscapes with a set of colored pencils.
Like many of the people living at 2551 San Pablo Ave., his background is something of a mystery. Neither neighbors nor mental health providers who referred him there know much about his personal life, or how he wound up living in a second floor room of the halfway house run by Urojas Community Services.
Early in the morning of March 27, he and three others died in that building when a candle ignited a massive, four-alarm fire.
The three other victims — Edwarn Anderson, 64, Cassandra Robertson, 50, and Ashantikee Wilson, 41 — have been identified and named by the Alameda County Coroner’s Office.
But the fourth victim — a 36-year-old Nigerian man — was badly burned. The coroner was finally able to identify him by a single fingerprint, but his name is being withheld until family can be notified — a fruitless search so far.
The man in Room 223 is as much a puzzle in death as he was in life.
All research so far has led to dead-ends. Sheriff’s investigators learned he once lived in Cincinnati, but nothing more. One person who might have known him, Wilson, his apparent roommate in the San Pablo building, also died in the fire.
“We’re having a hard time getting a hold of (the family),” Alameda County Sheriff’s Office spokesman Sgt. Ray Kelly said. “Everybody we talked to doesn’t know him well or was just a friend. We don’t know how he ended up here.”
This newspaper has learned the name of the victim, but will not name him until family has been notified. The man’s remains were found a day after the fire, but were “unremerccognizable and needed scientific identification,” Kelly said.
Coroner’s officials were able to determine the person died from smoke inhalation. Days later, deputies received a hit from the FBI lab from a fingerprint, but it provided little more than a name. Investigators believe the man’s family may reside in Nigeria and attempts to contact anyone there have been unsuccessful, even after speaking with his social worker and others, Kelly said.
The deadly fire tore through the three-story building nearly four months after an inferno claimed 36 lives at the Ghost Ship warehouse across town, in the Fruitvale district. While Oakland grieves again, city officials have vowed to beef up fire inspections after discovering the fire department had known about the fire safety dangers of the San Pablo Avenue building. One fire captain recommended shutting it down in January.
As fire investigators continue to probe what has initially been ruled an accidental candle fire, the coroner’s office is working to bring closure by finding the family of the fourth and final victim from Room 223. Even other residents of the building reached by this newspaper had a hard time remembering the man with a thick African accent.”He was real quiet. He kind of hung out by himself,” said the Rev. Jasper Lowery, who runs Urojas.
Urojas co-director the Rev. Aurea Lewis, who is hosting a memorial for the four victims April 23, remembered a man who stuck to a pattern. She likened him to the Dustin Hoffman character in the movie “Rain Man.” He had lived with Urojas for more than three years, she recalled.
“He was a very quiet, observant man,” Lewis said. “He came to church every Sunday and in his own way praised.”
She has no idea how he came to the United States. “It was very sketchy,” she said.
“He was extremely savvy with computers. Computers were his way of expressing himself, and he liked to paint with colored pencils,” Lewis said.
Lewis recalled seeing on a wall in Room 223 a drawing in light yellows, blues and greens of the McElroy fountain near Lake Merritt, by the entrance to Children’s Fairyland. No sketches, belongings or personal effects were left after the fire. Like the rest of the building, investigators found only black soot in Room 223.
Mystery solved: Father of Oakland fire victim located in Nigeria
By MATTHIAS GAFNI | email@example.com and DAVID DEBOLT | firstname.lastname@example.org |
Alameda County Coroner’s Office investigators on Monday tracked down the father of Olatunde Adejumobi, the fourth fire victim at 2551 San Pablo Ave., allowing officials to release his name. (Anda Chu/Bay Area News Group)
OAKLAND — Years before he died in last month’s halfway house blaze, Olatunde Adejumobi was researching the use of complex pseudorandom strings and studying computer theory at UC Berkeley.
A psychotic break sent the 36-year-old Nigerian native on a mental health referral to Urojas Community Services’ facility at 2551 San Pablo Ave. Residents knew him as the quiet man who spoke with a thick African accent, but years before he moved into the low-income housing complex, Adejumobi studied the theory of computation and mathematics and designed a randomized algorithm in an elite summer program for electrical engineering and computing at UC Berkeley.
Like many residents at the three-story Oakland building, Adejumobi’s life has been a mystery since Alameda County coroner investigators identified his burned remains by a fingerprint. On Monday, officials reached his father in Nigeria, with the help of the Nigerian consulate, and released his name publicly for the first time since the March 27 fire. His care providers at Urojas said he loved computers, but they likely didn’t know the depth of his vast education.
In 2004, Adejumobi joined 13 other students from across the country in UC Berkeley’s Summer Undergraduate Program in Engineering Research at Berkeley, which works to collect and use big data for the public good.
His faculty mentor, Luca Trevisan, remembered Adejumobi.
“This is very sad news. I remember him well,” Trevisan said by email. “About five years later, in 2009, he got in touch again by email. Apparently he had suffered from mental health problems and he had dropped out of school in Cincinnati.”
Louis Peerless, who rented an apartment to Adejumobi for two years in Cincinnati, remembers him as a sharp mathematician who also suffered from mental illness. On one occasion, the fire department was called because Adejumobi was lying motionless on his bed near a window, Peerless said.
About six years ago, Adejumobi took off for San Francisco, where he claimed to have a wife, Peerless said. He left all of his belongings behind: family photos, clothes and intricate math notes. Peerless kept them in storage for three years, then gave away what he could and trashed the rest.
A letter Peerless sent to San Francisco addressed to Adejumobi to inquire about his disappearance was returned, he said.
“I was heartbroken to do that,” Peerless said. “But how long was I supposed to keep it?
“That’s the thing that really got to me. He didn’t take a thing. I guess he took the clothes he was wearing and whatever cash he had and left,” Peerless said.
Two weeks after the fire, investigators tracked down Adejumobi’s father in Osogbo, Nigeria, with the help of the Nigerian consulate, said Alameda County sheriff’s spokesman Ray Kelly. Adejumobi died from smoke inhalation on the second floor, where he lived in Room 223.
“Sometimes we drive a few blocks over to someone’s house and sometimes we have to reach across the globe,” Kelly said. “Either way, it’s not easy but it’s part of the process we deal with doing death notifications.”
The three other victims — Edwarn Anderson, 64, Cassandra Robertson, 50, and Ashantikee Wilson, 41 — had already been identified and named by the coroner’s office.
The deadly fire gutted the three-story building, leaving dozens homeless. It came nearly four months after the Ghost Ship warehouse blaze killed 36 people in the Fruitvale district.
WEDNESDAY, APRIL 12, 2017 5:48 a.m. [GMT]