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Remembering Isaac Gebreslassie Amanios, a victim of the San Bernardino terrorist attack a year ago

Isaac was born to Aregash Emnetu and Gebreslassie Amanios on June 29, 1955 in Adi Merkeja and raised in Adi Shilomun, Eritrea. After completing his studies at Kudo-Abour elementary school, he attended San Gorgio High School in Mendefera from 1968 to 1971.  He transferred to Atse Yohannes High School in Mekele, Ethiopia, in 1971 and graduated in 1972. After graduation, Isaac attended the University of Addis Ababa. He left the University and joined the Eritrean Liberation Front from 1974 to 1976.  He enrolled at the University of Khartoum in 1979 and graduated on November 1984 with a bachelor’s degree in Agriculture and Nutrition. 

After graduation, Isaac worked in Sudan as an interpreter at a United States resettlement camp for refugees. He then briefly worked in Saudi Arabia prior to joining the Eritrean People’s Liberation Front from 1986 to 1991 where he contributed to the independence of Eritrea. He then became the Managing Director of SOPRAL, a state owned food processing and packaging company.

Isaac married Hiwet Yohannes Haile on October 20, 1991. His family was complete after the birth of his three children, sons Bruk and Yosief and daughter Milka. He was a loving, kind, and involved husband and father.

Isaac traveled to the United States in 2000 to attend his wife’s graduation in Michigan. At that point, he decided to remain in the United States to provide a better life for his family and settled in Fontana, California where he could be close to his extended family. After passing his health inspector exam, Isaac began working as a weight and measure inspector for the Los Angeles County Health Department

Starting October 15, 2004, Isaac served the San Bernardino County Health Department for over 11 years where he was working as an Environmental Health Specialist until his untimely death. Isaac was grateful to be working in San Bernardino since it was closer to home and allowed him to have more time with his family. He cherished his work as a public servant and was honored to serve the County of San Bernardino.

A loving person

Above everything else, Isaac valued family and community. His free time was often spent with family and friends and his home was usually the gathering place. He participated in weddings, baptisms, graduations and birthday celebrations of his nephews and nieces. Isaac would often fly across the United States and overseas to attend these events and made it a priority always to be there. Although he valued, nurtured, and mentored many of his family members, he was especially close to his nephew Fessehatsion Solomon Gebreselassie with whom he shared a special bond.

There is, in fact, a story that those of us who were close to him we can tell in regard to the lifelong bond between Issac and Fessehatsion that highlights one particular attribute of Issac: the high premium he put on love in his human relationships:

When he was just 5 years old, he was moved from his mother in the village he grew up to join his father in Mendefera [at that time, his parents were living separately] so that he can attend school. His mother too was pushing him to join his father, fully realizing that she cannot provide him with the education he needed in the village. But after few months in the town, he missed his mother so much that he found his position unbearable. Realizing that he cannot live without her love, one day he walked back about 30 kilometers all the way to his mother’s village. Hi father who found himself in an impossible position came up with an ingenious plan: this time around, in retrieving him, he brought his nephew (Fessahatsion) of a similar age with him to the town. Replacing one love with another love worked like a charm; Issac never tried to go back for good to his mother’s village. But more importantly, the bondage that was built then would last them for lifetime, coming to an abrupt tragic end by the untimely death of Issac.

Now, going back to Issac’s life, we find this love everywhere he struck a relationship, be it in the family he cherished and nourished, among friends who adored him, in the workplace he excelled, at schools he attended, in the movements he participated, etc. His love of life was to be seen in everything he did.

Sacrifice as his mark of love

Sacrificing for the sake of family, friends and country was a pattern that we see in Issac’s characteristics. That was what made him join the ELF in 1974, as many other Eritreans did, only to abandon it two years later after a deep disillusionment. That was also what made him join the EPLF in 1986, at a time when many were abandoning it, even though later he was to be equally disappointed.

He loved the US for the opportunity it gave him, and became an ardent admirer of the US democratic system. By the same token, he was very critical of the authoritarian movements he had attended, and abhorred the regime in Eritrea. In fact, he used to say that after living few years in independent Eritrea, he had a deep foreboding that darkness was about to engulf the nation (even though he was comparatively in a privileged position), and was the primary reason that made him decide to leave the nation.

It is no wonder then that when asked what she remembers most about her deceased husband, his wife mentions one particular case to highlight the extent of sacrifice he was willing to pay for the betterment of the family. When she was given a chance to go to the USA for further education, at first she was reluctant because she had to leave her three children behind. What worried her most was the youngest one that was just two years old then. 

Isaac was adamant; he insisted that she go and that he will take care of the children in her absence. He gave her all the moral support when she needed it most. And he did a wonderful job in raising the kids for many years in her absence.

How the family is coping

That tragic day Issac got killed remains etched in his wife’s memory:

After she ate breakfast with him early in the morning in that fateful day, she was never to see him again. She was at work when the massacre at San Bernardino took place. She never suspected that her husband could be one of them. Nevertheless, she kept calling him to warn him of the ongoing event, but there was no response. She reassured herself by saying that he must have a dead battery.

When she came back from work, she expected him to be there. Finding the house dark, she thought that he was staying late at work. And when she received no call from him for hours after that, she still kept bringing one reason after another; that he was playing ground tennis with his friends, among others. In retrospect, it seems she was entertaining anything to drive her mind away from the horrible thought that he could have been a victim of the San Bernardino massacre. Even when it was getting real late, when she began to entertain the impossible, there was still hope that he might come out of the incident maybe wounded but not dead or that the police might have detained him for reasons unknown to her. The frantic calls and visits to hospitals and police stations were being made with that desperate hope in mind.

It was only on the next day, when the official announcement came, that the whole tragedy sunk in. When the police told her that her husband didn’t make it, she collapsed at the spot she was standing. Ever since then, she has been grieving. The children too have had a difficult year, finding it very hard to forget their loving father’s untimely death.

Going on with their lives

Despite the deep sorrow his family is experiencing, his passing has brought Issac’s extended family together in ways that would have made him proud. Although the traumatized family has not completely healed and his wife and children are still grieving, that family remains strong and the children are striving hard to fulfill the dream that their father had for them.

When we write this remembrance then, it is with hope that Hiwet and her children would find final closure. Having loved life so much, Issac would want nothing more than to see his wife and children go on with their lives, that there would be nothing more joyful to him than to see his family joyful and laughing again. In our culture, in a year of one’s husband’s death, women go to the widow to conduct debes: in a ritual familiar to the habesha landscape, they take away her mourning dress for good and braid her anew, preparing her for a normal life, thus bringing a much needed closure. Now, such a closure is very much needed in Issac’s home.

Isaac was preceded in death by his parents, Aregash Emnetu and Gebreselassie Amanios; his brothers Solomon and Habte; his sister Hirit. In addition to his wife and three children, he is survived by his brothers Abraham, Beyene, Shambel Segid, Tesfai and his sisters Abadit, Zaid, Alemash and Letensie. He is also survived by many sisters and brothers-in-law, nephews, nieces, cousins and friends who will miss him dearly.

There is no doubt that Isaac will be missed dearly. So will all those 13 who were taken away from their beloved ones on that tragic day.

source Remembering Isaac Gebreslassie Amanios, a victim of the San Bernardino terrorist attack a year ago

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