Hundreds of Cal Lutheran students poured into Samuelson Chapel on Thursday afternoon for a regularly scheduled prayer meeting, unaware that they would be mourning the loss of one of their own, Justin Meek, one of 12 people killed in a shooting at a nearby bar in Thousand Oaks.
When Meeks name was announced as a casualty of the mass shooting Wednesday night, gasps and wails filled the chapel.
Fernan Diamse, 36, was one of dozens of Cal Lutheran students at the scene of the carnage Wednesday night at Borderline Bar & Grill when a gunman dressed in black started shooting people at random with a Glock 21 pistol around 11:25 p.m.
Diamse stood up and began to talk about his friend, bleeding through a bandage wrapped around his right forearm from an injury he sustained during his escape from the bar. He described his friend as “a big teddy bear” who selflessly led frightened patrons to safety and shielded others from gunfire.
“He put himself in front of people. Thats the kind of person he was. He knew how to take care of people, coming from a military family,” Diamse said in an interview. The 36-year-old student is a 14-year Navy veteran turned psychology student and was a regular at the Borderline Bar & Grill for “college night.”
Meeks mother is a veteran of the Air Force and his father a Navy SEAL, wrote Jenn Zimmerman, Cal Lutherans veterans coordinator. Meek spent two years in a work-study job at the Veterans Resource Office at Cal Lutheran, where he bonded with veterans who entered the office and helped them fill out paperwork for financial aid.
He was planning on joining the U.S. Coast Guard, a compromise between the Air Force and Navy, Zimmerman said.
An accomplished cook, Meek was tapped to prepare the meal for more than 100 students at the Veterans Day lunch on Monday, school officials confirmed.
“Since he can no longer be with us, we will hold a memorial in his honor,” Zimmerman wrote about Meek.
Diamse and others said Meek was a promoter of college night and was working Wednesday night as a bouncer. “Justin made you feel welcome,” Diamse said. “His parents raised him that away and his parents were just the same. He was easy to talk to and he liked to involve people (in community activities) just like me.”
Reaction to Meeks death rippled through the 4,400-plus Christian university. Although other students were still unaccounted for late Thursday, Meek was the only casualty identified as being associated with the school, said Karin Grennan, Cal Lutheran spokeswoman.
Meek graduated in May with a bachelors degree in criminology and criminal justice but came back to help out at the veterans center, Zimmerman said. He was immediate past president of the schools Country Line Dance Club, having handed the reins to his sister, Victoria, 18, this year. She was at the bar during the shooting but was unharmed, officials said.
At the graduation ceremony in May, Meek sang the national anthem. Diamse said he graduated alongside his mom.
Besides being a dancer, Meek was a talented musician with a bass voice that landed him a job in the prestigious Goode Time Carolers quartet. He was scheduled to perform at Disneyland Park in Anaheim on Thanksgiving weekend.
“He was one of the sweetest guys we ever met. He gave his life protecting other lives,” said Tony Duran, owner of Goode Time Productions, the company that hired Meek as a Christmas caroler. The group also provides singing quartets at Hong Kong Disneyland Resort, Shanghai Disney Resort and Fashion Island in Newport Beach.
“We offer our deepest condolences to the family, friends and loved ones of Justin Meek and to all those affected by this horrific tragedy,” a Disneyland spokeswoman said Thursday.
Duran had spoken to Meek recently and had scheduled a special dress rehearsal for him on Nov. 20. “For his age, he was already a polished veteran,” Duran said of Meek, who was a member of the schools Kingsmen Quartet and sang in the choir.
Religion professor Colleen Windham-Hughes, 43, said she met Meek four years ago when he was a freshman.
She described him as having a “ready smile, an optimistic outlook on life and a beautiful voice.” She later added: “He was very open with his hugs.”
Meeks Instagram feed shows multiple images promoting events at Borderline, including what appears to be a regular Wednesday fixture: College Country Night. His Facebook page shows a picture of him with friends and co-workers at the bar from September.
Cal Lutherans student news site, The Echo, reported that Meeks sister, Julie, is a student at the school.
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