In 2002, Nicholas Thalasinos resigned his job with the Cape May County Health Department and left for San Bernardino, Calif., where he took a similar job as an inspector, married a woman he met in a quirky online group, and went from being Greek Orthodox to identifying as a Messianic Jew.
On Wednesday, the father of two, remembered in New Jersey as a hard worker and nice guy who kept in touch with old co-workers, became one of 14 people killed by a co-worker and his wife in a mass shooting at a county health department party.
The day before the shootings, Thalasinos had posted about an anti-Semitic threat he received via Facebook from a man named "Med Ali Zarouk" that included the words "you will die and never see Israel."
Authorities were investigating whether the married shooters, Syed Rizwan Farook, 28, and Tashfeen Malik, 27, had ties to Islamic militants, and why Farook turned on his co-workers.
Thalasinos kept an active Facebook page, posting frequently about Israel and conservative politics. He was mourned on Facebook as a "prolife warrior" and "great patriot." His posts included several comparing Muslims to Nazis.
But in New Jersey, friends remembered Thalasinos in much milder ways.
"We found out this morning looking on Facebook," said Ed Beck, a construction official with the City of Linwood whose wife was a co-worker of Thalasinos' at the Cape May County Department of Health. "We were talking about it, saying, 'I hope Nick was OK,' not knowing. It's always one of those deals, 'You know how big San Bernardino is, he's probably OK.' "
Beck said his wife, Barb, who still works as a Cape May health inspector, had spoken to Thalasinos on Sunday regarding cancer surgery.
"He was a wonderful friend," Beck said. "He worked in Cape May County as a health inspector, and went out to California and was doing the same work there."
Cape May County Freeholder Director Gerald Thornton said Thalasinos worked as an environmental health inspector from 1988 to 2002.
"He was with us for 14 years," Thornton said. "He would go out and inspect the restaurants and facilities. I knew Nick for a period of years from the health department. He was a hard-working, dedicated employee. He was an average Joe working guy, really cared for his family, spoke highly of his kids. I was somewhat shocked."
Thalasinos had two adult sons, and lived in Middle Township when he was in Cape May County, Beck said. That a target of the shooting was a county health department party and a victim a former co-worker was deeply unsettling for his wife and other former co-workers, he said.
"They were co-workers for a very long time," Beck said. "I'm sure she wasn't taking it too well today. We had just spoken with him Sunday. He was a really nice guy, focused on what he was doing, good work ethic."
Thalasinos' Facebook page was filled with mourning postings from his community of online friends, many of whom remembered him for active postings about Israel and other political topics, and for their connections as Messianic Jews.
He was active in a pro-life group and in the Shiloh Messianic Congregation, which combines Jewish rituals, belief in Jesus Christ, and fervent support of Israel. His Facebook biography says he studied conservatism at the "Limbuagh Institute for Advanced Conservative Studies." There are numerous posts about President Obama and the threat to Israel, and about Muslim terrorist attacks against Christians.
His last post, captured as a photo, described a message he had gotten from a Facebook member from Ukraine called "Med Ali Zarouk" who told him "you will never sucsseed (sic) to make a country for jews . . . soon you'll get your a- kicked, you will die and never see Israel as country believe me never."
Thalasinos wrote on Facebook that he had blocked Zarouk, whom he called an "anti-semitic brain surgeon," and others he described as "pagan anti-semitic troglodytes."
Beck said he believed Thalasinos had moved to California to be with his wife, Jennifer. "I know he was corresponding with his current wife," Beck said of the couple's courtship. "I think the reason was to go out to be with her."
Jennifer Thalasinos told the New York Times that her husband was friendly with Farook and had given her no indication that anything was amiss with him.
"My husband was very outspoken about ISIS and all of these radicalized Muslims," she said. "If he would've thought that somebody in his office was like that, he would've said something."
According to a GoFundMe page set up for the victim's wife, the two met in an online chat room for fans of the TV show Beauty and the Beast. "They shared their love for science fiction and fantasy, and had a very deep, spiritual relationship," the page says.
Thornton said Thalasinos was active in St. Demetrios Greek Orthodox Church in North Wildwood while living in New Jersey.
He said the county was looking to increase security at county facilities and offices in the wake of the recent mass shootings, and had added armed guards at Atlantic Cape Community College campuses.
"We are definitely going to address that," he said. "I know it's going to be expensive and have an impact on the tax rate. We don't have a choice here."