Friends recall talks — some odd — with man probed in terror attack

He’s a former Wal-Mart security guard who likes punk rock, an avid cyclist who tinkers on cars and – to those who know him well – an introvert who at times comes across as a light-hearted clown.

For the past few days, though, Enrique Marquez Jr. has become known to a broader audience – for his friendship with a terrorist and as a focus of authorities in their probe into last week’s massacre in San Bernardino.

The 24-year-old Marquez, who is related by marriage to one of the killers, remained under scrutiny Thursday as federal authorities continued to examine his purchase of two high-powered rifles used by Syed Rizwan Farook and Tashfeen Malik in the Dec. 2 attack that killed 14 people gathered for a holiday party and training session.

FBI officials declined to comment Thursday on Marquez, who they say has been cooperating with them. Marquez has shared a number of details with authorities, and an unnamed law enforcement official told the Washington Post that he and Farook had discussed in 2012 some type of attack but dropped the idea after four men were arrested in the Inland Empire, in a separate plan to kill Americans in Afghanistan.

Shortly after last week’s shootings, Marquez called his mother to say he was safe but that he wouldn’t be coming home, neighbor Lorena Aguirre said. He later checked into a mental health facility.

Marquez was friends with Farook, who, with wife Malik, died hours later in a shootout with police.

Farook, 28, and Marquez grew up on the same street in Riverside and both attended La Sierra High School. The two shared an interest in cars and guns.

But much about Marquez’s life remains a mystery, including his conversion to Islam and one of his more peculiar ties to Farook.

In November 2014, Marquez married Russian Mariya Chernykh, 25 – the sister of the wife of Farook’s brother, according to Riverside County marriage records.

It doesn’t appear to be a conventional marriage. Marquez lived at his mother’s house on Tomlinson Avenue in Riverside, while Chernykh lived in Corona with her sister, Tatiana Gigliotti, and Farook’s brother, Syed Raheel Farook.

Marquez’s friend Viviana Ramirez said she didn’t know if the marriage was arranged by the sister or if they got married without knowing each other.

“He never really talked about the marriage,” Ramirez said. “He said they just didn’t have the money to move in together.”

Ramirez, 23, told the New York Daily News that Marquez mentioned his marriage for the first time in September while they were drinking.

“It just slipped out one day. He said, ‘Yeah, I’ve been married for a year,’” Ramirez said.

She described an exchange over Facebook one day before the San Bernardino attack. Marquez posted a comment that “basically said, ‘One person always goes further than the other to make things work,’” Ramirez told the Daily News.

“I asked him, ‘Oh, so you’re talking about your marriage?’ He asked me to message him so I did, and that’s when he said, ‘When did I tell you about my marriage?’”

Marquez’s mother, Armida Charcon, told reporters outside her home Thursday that her son is “a good person.”

“I don’t know how this happened … My world is upside down,” the Los Angeles Times reported. She sobbed and called him her “right hand at home,” helping care for his brothers.

His only previous brush with the law, according to court records, was a Riverside municipal citation for riding his bicycle on the sidewalk.

Before last week, the only time Marquez had his name in the news was when he helped save a dog.

In April, he appeared on KTLA 5 after a rattlesnake bit his friend’s pug mix, Dug, while they were hiking. It was Marquez who scooped up Dug and rushed back to the car.

In the segment, Marquez smiles warmly as he holds Dug. “I’m sore now,” he tells the reporter, laughing.

Marquez attended Riverside Community College from fall 2009 until he withdrew after the winter term of 2011, according to Robert Schmidt, a spokesman for the college district.

He had worked at a Wal-Mart in Corona since May but has since been fired, spokesman Brian Nick told The Associated Press.

And for extra money, he worked as a doorman at Morgan’s Tavern, which regularly hosts live music, according to several musicians.

His demeanor depends on whom you ask. Neighbor Freddy Escamilla told CNN that Marquez would nod hello but say little else.

“He never really talked to anyone,” Escamilla said, calling Marquez “very introverted.”

Others recall him differently. Davin Williams, a sophomore at Riverside Community College, described Marquez as silly and joyful, and said he returned to campus to visit people even after he left.

Marquez’s friend Ramirez said she never met Farook or heard Marquez mention him. She invited Marquez to gatherings at her house, but she never went to his home.

He was shy the first time she met him, at Buffalo Wild Wings, after they connected on an RCC online forum, but opened up. He never talked about owning guns.

“He was never quiet or awkward or weird,” she said. “He was just really cool.”

Friend Michael G. Stone told ABC News that Marquez is funny and “really easygoing.”

But he recalled a now-ominous statement Marquez made at a party months ago.

“He said something along the lines of, ‘There’s a lot of Muslims in our own backyard, just ready to go haywire and attack,’” Stone told ABC. “And we didn’t think nothing of it. We just brushed it aside, you know. He was drunk, so I don’t know.”

The depth of Marquez’s conversion to Islam is unclear. His marriage ceremony took place at the Islamic Society of Corona-Norco, according to the license, though the mosque’s facility manager denied it occurred there.

Manager Azmi Hasan said this week that he understood Marquez had converted to Islam but said he was not a member of that mosque. Marquez had worshipped there only three or four times over seven years, said Hasan, who had not seen him in about four years.

He told CNN that he found Marquez odd. Once he saw him outside the mosque, laughing out loud to himself.

When asked what was so funny, Marquez said he wasn’t laughing.

Staff writers Vanessa Franko and Alex Groves and The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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