Vanessa Plotkin.

Vanessa Plotkin. (Illustration by Claudia Escobar/KQED)

“Our Vanessa Grace Plotkin, or how we nicknamed her, Nessa, Nessie or Ness,” says Vanessa Plotkin’s father, Gary Plotkin, of the daughter whom he lost in the Oakland warehouse fire. “I had fun with her name: Princess Ness, your ness-Ness, or messy-Ness, happy-Ness, super-Ness, sweet-Ness godly-Ness, smart-Ness, positive-Ness and not the least, lovely-Ness.”

Vanessa Plotkin.

Plotkin, a 21-year-old junior from Lakewood in Southern California who was majoring in sociology, moved to Berkeley in August. She’d found a home at Cal, where she roomed with her close friend, Jenny Morris, who also died in the Dec. 2 blaze.

“We attended the Lake Merritt vigil for all of the victims of this fire and that vigil gave me the full picture of my daughter,” Gary Plotkin says. “The love and acceptance that exists in this community is who she is — who she has always been since her birth — and by her attending school here only increased that reverberation that existed in her.”

It took Plotkin two tries to get into Berkeley, her dad says, noting that she was “determined, focused and persistent.” When she got to Cal, Plotkin “reached her mountaintop,” her father says. “This is where she belonged. This was her dream. This is where she was excelling.”

As part of her Cal experience, Plotkin had recently started volunteering at the campus radio station, KALX. “We will feel the loss of her kindness, bright smile, and love for music,” the station wrote in a statement about Plotkin.

Though she was far from home, Plotkin kept close ties to her family and friends back in Lakewood. Her mom, Valerie Plotkkin, shared text messages, complete with heart emojis. “She was such a beautiful daughter to me,” she says. “I was blessed to have her for 21 years.”

Vanessa Plotkin
Vanessa Plotkin

The last correspondence between mom and daughter was a text on that Friday morning, when Vanessa told her how a video she’d made using photos of her mother had been well-received in class.

Of that message, Valerie Plotkin says: “She just told me: ‘My class loved the video I made of you mom!! A couple of people even cried LOL. Ha-ha. I am going to share it with you and the family. I hope you like it.’ And then I replied to her, ‘Aw, really,’ and I gave her an emoji throwing a kiss.”

Plotkin adored music. Her close childhood friend, Olivia Greene, recalls listening with Plotkin to a Lil’ Kim song that she loved.

“Vanessa is my childhood,” Greene says. “I can tell our friendship in music. It might start with Hillary Duff, her iconic Metamorphosis album was a thing for a good period of time. I can’t wait to buy a record player and buy the records of all our favorite songs, because I know she is with me when I listen to them.”

Plotkin’s parents says they will be grieving their daughter’s loss for a long time. But they take comfort from a message she left tacked on her memo board in her bedroom. “All it said was ‘I will be OK,’” Valerie Plotkin says. “And so we just know that Vanessa will be OK, up in heaven with my mom and my dad and people who love her.”


For more of our tributes to the victims of the Oakland warehouse fire, please visit our remembrances page here.

For a printable poster of the illustration above, see here.

Vanessa Plotkin, ‘Determined, Focused’ Student and Radio Volunteer 27 December,2016Miranda Leitsinger