Ben Runnels founded the band Introflirt, a play on the word introvert, though that adjective didn’t quite capture his personality.
“He had an introverted side to him, but he was very connected with the people he knew,” said Brendan Dreaper, Runnels’ friend and Introflirt’s manager. “Just a very caring friend; very warm person.”
Family and friends on Tuesday mourned Runnels, a Mariaville native who was among the victims of Friday’s Ghost Ship warehouse fire in Oakland, California. The blaze killed at least 36 people.
The fire is California’s deadliest structure fire since 1906, The Mercury News reported.
Those who knew Runnels recalled his creativity and ability to connect with others.
He also went by the name Charlie Prowler. He founded Introflirt, a synth-pop duo that produced a self-described “croonwave” style of music, according to its website. His bandmate, Denalda Nicole Renae, is listed among those missing in the warehouse fire.
Dreaper, who spoke Tuesday on behalf of the family, said in a telephone interview that he met Runnels at a show in 2015.
Introflirt was setting up to play at a bar and was having trouble setting up its audio equipment. Dreaper offered to help and was hooked by the band’s sound, he said.
“The music was just so beautiful,” Dreaper said. “I just said, ‘Can I please be a part of your project?’”
Runnels was direct, honest and committed to everything he did, Dreaper said. He moved to Oakland about five years ago and spent a few days each week singing at a local piano bar called The Alley, Dreaper said.
“It’s just a really impressive commitment about who he was, because he was so dedicated to creating his voice,” Dreaper said.
Runnels’ family, including his parents and sister, said Monday night that they had confirmed Runnels’ death and were traveling to Oakland. Rick and Lorrie Runnels own the Mariaville Lake Bed and Breakfast in Pattersonville.
“He was the brightest shining star, and we carry him in our hearts,” his mother wrote in a Facebook post.
Prior to moving to Oakland to further his music career, Runnels worked in radio on the East Coast.
Sarah Colvin met Runnels in 2009, while both were working at Cape Cod Broadcasting in Hyannis, Massachusetts. Colvin was a news reporter, while Runnels worked as an operations assistant. The two became friends, she said.
“He was a bright light" "a unique individual" "very musically talented,” she said.
Runnels also spent some time working at 102.7 WEQX-FM, an alternative radio station in Vermont that broadcasts to the Capital Region. He hosted the Jam n’ Toast program on the station for a while. A former co-worker at the station declined an interview on Tuesday.
Friends and fellow musicians produced an outpouring of support on social media in the wake of his death. One friend called Runnels “whip-smart, incredibly talented, and always genuine.” Others fondly remembered his creativity, energy and sense of humor.
“The sadness we feel in our hearts is hard to put into words,” one woman wrote on the Charlie Prowler Facebook page. “All we can say is that you are going to be deeply missed.”