NEW YORK (WABC) -- One of the 14 people killed in the San Bernardino shooting was originally from southern New Jersey.
Nicholas Thalasinos, 52, was a worker at the San Bernardino Department of Health.
His first wife said he was born in New York and grew up around Toms River, New Jersey.
Before moving to the West Coast, he worked for the Cape May County Health Department.
He identified as a Messianic Jew and passionately defended Israel, actively debating about religion in online forums and in person, his friends said.
Only two weeks ago, Thalasinos, of Colton, was having a heated on-the-job discussion about the nature of Islam with Syed Rizwan Farook, his fellow restaurant inspector and one of the shooters.
Thalasinos' friend, Kuuleme Stephens, told The Associated Press that she happened to call him while he was working with Farook and that he brought her into their debate, loudly declaring that Farook "doesn't agree that Islam is not a peaceful religion."
She heard Farook counter that Americans don't understand Islam, and Thalasinos responded by saying, "I don't know how to talk with him," she said.
Stephens said she didn't sense any pending violence at the time, and it is not clear if their debates factored in the attack. Stephens said Thalasinos did not believe his co-worker would ever turn violent.
However, Stephens said Thalasinos' grieving wife told her later Thursday to tell the media that she now "believes her husband was martyred for his faith and beliefs." It wasn't immediately clear why Jennifer Thalasinos came to that conclusion.
Nicholas and Jennifer Thalasinos had recently renewed their marriage vows, and they appeared together frequently on his Facebook page.
"He was a wonderful person," said Joey Shimoni, another friend. "A great husband and just a sweet soul."
(The Associated Press contributed to this report.)
One of victims of San Bernardino shooting was originally from New Jersey