An hour and change before Dan Manrique's life was brutally cut short in a mass shooting at the Borderline Bar and Grill in Thousand Oaks, California Wednesday night, he had been in a meeting with fellow members of veterans organization Team Red White and Blue, brainstorming about how to improve community within the group and connect better with veterans in need.
So when Rudolph Andrade, a Team RWB chapter captain for Los Angeles, got a text message the following day asking if Manrique had been in the vicinity of the shooting, Andrade's first response was reassurance.
"Dan was with me last night when all this happened," Andrade said he replied.
Days later, the shock of processing the loss of Manrique, a close friend as well as a teammate, is still setting in for him.
In fact, there were at least three members of Team RWB at the scene of the horrific shooting that claimed 12 lives, according to Andrade and postings on the Team RWB Ventura County Facebook page: Manrique, on full-time staff for the group as the Pacific Regional Manager; Justin Meek, a promoter at the bar killed in the shooting, who'd reportedly planned on joining the Coast Guard after college; and Fernan Diamse, another chapter member who made it out alive, but sustained a cut on his arm from broken window glass in his effort to escape.
Andrade, who like Manrique is a veteran of the Marine Corps, said the two men bonded quickly when they met in 2014 through the veterans organization, despite a gap in their ages.
"I'm 45; he was 33. But he was never like a kid," Andrade said. "He was really soft-spoken. He was always calm. He was more mature than anybody his age."
According to service information released by the Marine Corps, Manrique served from 2003 to 2007, reaching the rank of sergeant. A field radio operator, he'd deployed to Iraq from aboard the amphibious assault ship Bataan in 2007.
Andrade said he served from 2002 to 2010 as a tank mechanic, deploying to Iraq from 2007 to 2008. He also left the Corps as a sergeant.
"It's funny because I looked at his service, and said, 'Dude, we were in a lot of the same places,'" Andrade said.
One of the first events they participated in together, Andrade said, was an overnight camping trip for Team RWB, where they ended up huddling over concerns about a sensitive situation involving a member.
"I could always talk to Dan, and I knew it was a safe place," Andrade said.
The friendship quickly blossomed beyond their work in the organization. They bonded over their love of the LA Dodgers and started attending baseball games together. Eventually they hatched a plan to visit as many baseball stadiums as they could throughout the United States. They'd made expeditions to San Francisco and Oakland, Andrade said, and had more trips in the works.
Both men had dedicated significant personal resources to serving other veterans in need. Manrique had previously worked at a local medical center helping veterans with mental diagnoses and drug dependency. Andrade assists with outreach to homeless veterans through the Department of Veterans Affairs.
So when Andrade found out that the apparent shooter, Ian David Long, was also a veteran of the Marine Corps, he was certain of one thing.
"I know that if the shooter -- it's hard to even say he's a Marine, it hurts -- If Dan and I knew this guy needed help, we would be like, 'hey, dude, what can we do for you,'" Andrade said. "We clicked with veterans fast, quick. Dan would have helped this guy."
While he has tried to avoid reading news reports, Andrade also expressed disbelief about a narrative that has gained traction, that Long suffered from post-traumatic stress due to his military service, and it motivated his violent actions.
VA Secretary Robert Wilkie has said Long never sought help at the VA; any clinical diagnosis remains unclear.
There was a Marine who did have PTSD in that bar, Andrade said: Manrique himself.
"Marines with PTSD, ok yeah, you know, Dan had it, I have it. You don't go do that s***," he said. "You take care of your s***, you deal with it ... I know what I've been through and I know what my friends have been through, and we're dealing with it."
The Ventura County Chapter of Team RWB has planned a memorial run in honor of Manrique on Veterans Day.
"I was talking to my dad yesterday; my dad is a Marine Vietnam vet," Andrade said. "I said, this is the kind of guy you want your son to grow up and be like. ... Dan was a brother."
-- Hope Hodge Seck can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter at @HopeSeck.