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The Student News Site of San Francisco State University

Golden Gate Xpress

The Student News Site of San Francisco State University

Golden Gate Xpress

SFSU mourns the loss of journalism student

Remembering Alex Kauffman, 22, the vibrant spirit and aspiring journalist
Leslie Quiroz
SF State journalism student Alex Kauffman died in an automobile accident on March 9, 2024 (courtesy of Leslie Quiroz)

San Francisco State University journalism student Alex Kauffman died suddenly in an automobile accident on March 9, according to a family confirmation sent to the Division of Student Life. He was 22. 

Kauffman transferred to SFSU ahead of the Fall 2022 semester after previously attending Washington State at the University of Puget Sound. This semester, he was enrolled in three journalism classes, including Ethics, Introduction to Multimedia, and Reporting. 

“We grieve Alex’s loss, and ache for those whose lives he touched,” said Jesse Garnier, SFSU’s  journalism department chair, in a statement to Golden Gate Xpress. “We honor Alex’s memory and journey; that of a young person, a student, working toward his future and dreams amid life’s many challenges.”

A service in his honor was held at 3:30 p.m. on March 17 at Temple Beth Abraham in Oakland.  

In 2001, Audrey and Richard Kauffman embarked on the journey of adopting Alex and his older sister Annie from a Ukrainian orphanage, a process that stretched over a year and a half. Richard said Alex was one of the youngest babies ever adopted from Ukraine by a foreign couple. 

From the beginning of their time together, the family immediately recognized Alex’s desire to embrace the spotlight and take advantage of his natural curiosity. 

“He was just always full of life,” Richard said. “From the beginning, curious, adventurous and very mischievous — happy-go-lucky. I wouldn’t say mischievous was his primary thing, but he definitely likes exploring new places.”

During his youth, the Kauffmans regularly visited campsites across the West Coast — the Grand Canyon, New Mexico, Washington, Oregon, Yellowstone, Santa Cruz and Yosemite were just a few of their notable trips. In the wee hours of the morning, Alex would rise from his slumber far earlier than anyone else — breakfast was still hours away from being served — to explore the amenities around the campgrounds. 

Kauffman’s curiosity was on full display during long car rides, where he uniquely trained himself to memorize specific car logos. 

“It was before he could even read,” Richard said. “ We’d be driving down the road and he would call out, ‘There’s a Toyota. There’s a Volkswagen. There’s a Lexus.’”

Eventually, his fascination with cars translated to other various modes of transportation. He loved hanging around the Oakland International Airport to watch the numerous plane arrivals and departures — an app that tracked flights throughout the United States would later become a personal favorite tool. When the Kauffmans traveled to New York, they left Alex in charge of navigating the complicated subway system, which could be intimidating for tourists. Not Alex — he would figure out the correct train to jump on with ease.

SF State journalism student Alex Kauffman pictured with a pumpkin as a toddler (courtesy of Gemma Cook)

Kauffman often spent these family trips with Dean Headley, his best friend from preschool. The duo became dynamic, spending countless hours around Lake Temescal and Lake Merritt in Oakland.  

“He was a crazy kid in the best ways — a little kid who just had tons of energy,” Headley said. “He had a massive smile on his face at all times and his energy was infectious. We really bonded over our love for playing, our love for sports, our love for activity and adventure.”

The two became close — almost too close.

Since neither Headley nor Kauffman had access to a car to drive to each other’s houses, or cell phones to dial each other throughout the day, the scheming 5-year-olds became fed up —  sick and tired of adults determining their lives. In a rebellious yet promising attempt to eliminate the middleman, the pair presented an audacious plan to their parents.

They wanted to get married. 

“I think in preschool, we didn’t really understand marriage or the constructs of what all of that meant in any serious way,” Headley said. “So we figured it would be the best way to stay friends for life and have this lifelong bond — and continue to have access to each other’s lives forever — if we simply got married.”

As expected, the Kauffmans and Headleys were naturally supportive but didn’t exactly encourage the toddlers to wed legally. 

Although he played middle school football and a few years of organized soccer, Kauffman’s enthusiasm for sports mostly came as a fan. He found joy in supporting the local Bay Area teams, but nothing ignited his spirit quite like donning the black and silver to cheer for the Oakland Raiders.

A few times a season, Kauffman could be seen — or heard — in the upper deck of  the Oakland Coliseum, vocally expressing his displeasure with opposing teams, usually in words not fit to repeat. 

“That was, like, his scene,” said Isaac Frankel, Kauffman’s cousin. “There’s very few times that we’ve had more fun together — was a Raiders tailgate. Dancing with the Raider fans, getting drinks; it was one of the best times I’ve had with him.”

The Raiders relocated to Las Vegas following the 2019 season, causing an uproar of disappointment among East Bay football fans. However, Kauffman took the news in stride, turning lemons into lemonade. He wound up seeing multiple Raiders home games in the team’s new location. He also saw it as an excuse to visit Sin City.

The last game he attended was on Jan. 7 with Frankel, as the Raiders outlasted the Denver Broncos during a 27-14 victory in the regular season finale. 

“Something that I can learn from him is that you don’t need everything in the world to be happy,” Frankel said. “He was somebody that found happiness in the very little things in life that most people would just kind of glance over and not really give any consideration [to].”

Aside from football, Kauffman enjoyed a special bond with music.

“It was always a good time with him,” said Gemma Cook, Kauffman’s childhood friend. “He loved singing in the car. If there was a song he loved, he wasn’t afraid to just sing it out loud and have an amazing time.”

Cook first met Kauffman in Mrs. Fong’s kindergarten class at Joaquin Miller Elementary School in Oakland. They quickly became friends, accompanying each other to different music festivals across the Bay Area and California. One of Kauffman’s favorite pastimes was to arrive before the herd at concerts to secure a front-row seat. 

At a Florida Georgia Line concert in 2017, Kauffman was locked in on every lyric — Cook calls him a “suction for music” — to the extent that the band members noticed his infectious energy. In a surprise move, one of them handed him their autographed guitar. 

“He was the most enthusiastic one there — he knew every single word and they could tell,” Cook said. “He’s in the front row dancing, singing.”

SF State journalism student Alex Kauffman poses in front of a stage following a concert (courtesy of Gemma Cook)

Kauffman would savor the souvenir for a short period before discovering the guitar’s worth a few months later. After viewing the significant possible return price, he pulled the trigger and sold it online. 

Leslie Quiroz, Kauffman’s girlfriend of almost two years, remembers their occasional walks around department stores. If an intriguing tune played over the speakers, Kauffman would whip out his phone, identify the song on Shazam and add it to his playlist called “I Don’t Know.” There was variety in his library, but country music was his favorite — even in the heavily diverse Bay Area, a region where the extensive history of hip-hop and pop overshadows country jams.

“It’s special because, with Alex, he didn’t care if he loved something that was against the norm,” Cook said. “He loved being his own individual. I love that and I appreciate that about him because so many people feel like they need to fit exactly into society. He was totally fine doing his own thing — listening to his country music and loving the things that he loved.”

Kauffman studied at Bishop O’Dowd High School for a brief cameo before finishing at Mentoring Academy in Oakland. The latter included roughly 30 students in the student population, but had a beneficial student-to-teacher ratio. He took classes at the University of Puget Sound but transferred to SFSU in search of a better journalism program. 

Since he was young, Kauffman’s family and friends noticed his fascination with analyzing why different events unfolded in the United States and across the globe. He often engaged in lengthy and insightful political discussions — sometimes at untimely moments.

“He was never afraid to shy away from a debate or a conversation around touchy subjects, which was something that isn’t always appreciated at the moment, but it’s a very important thing,” Headley said.

Every morning, Kauffman — an early riser — would roll out of bed in the pre-dawn hours  to prepare for a part-time job in a warehouse. Part of his daily routine involved tuning in to the local news, a field he confided in close friends that he aspired to join one day.

“He talked for a long time about his ambition of being a broadcast journalist,” said his father, Richard, who was once a journalist. “We thought, well, kids have lots of ambitions, and it may or may not pan out like some other ideas by the time he’s in high school or goes to college. But no, he really stuck with it. I was thrilled when he went to SF State and wanted to major in journalism and really pursue it.”

In journalism classes at SFSU, classmates described Kauffman as “quiet” and “reserved” — a far different tone than his established reputation with family and friends.

As the Spring 2024 semester progressed, visible improvements started to show in his writing, reporting and interviewing abilities. 

“He really was starting to get so excited about it right before he passed,” Quiroz said. “I remember him sending me a text that literally said, ‘I think I’m starting to get passionate about this stuff. This is super fun.’”

For a recent assignment in his reporting class, Kauffman and his classmates were tasked with pumping out a story about the Super Tuesday election. When crunch time arrived and the deadline loomed, he shifted his focus to checking up on others.

“Everyone in that class had waited until night to do that story and he was checking on me,” said Alexa Camarena, a journalism minor also in Kauffman’s reporting class. “He was like, ‘Hey, how’s your story coming along?’ We were texting. He was like, ‘I kind of like the rush; this class feels like a job.’ He liked the pressure.”

When the journalism department notified students of Kauffman’s passing on March 18, his reporting class observed a moment of silence in his memory.

SF State journalism student Alex Kauffman died in an automobile accident on March 9, 2024 (courtesy of Leslie Quiroz)

Richard says Alex’s passing has left the family feeling “singled out” and “special,” but not in a good way. For the immediate future, they plan to rely on friends and family for support. 

“Love kind of works wonders, even in times like this — maybe especially at times like this,” Richard said. “My experience has been that it’s [a] day-to-day, hour-to-hour kind of thing; sometimes [a] breath-to-breath kind of thing. The first few days were numbing, and we were trying to just get over the shock.”

Kauffman’s sudden passing marks the second death of an SFSU student this month, following Zoe Reidy-Watts, who was found dead inside her Oakland home on March 1.

The journalism department is recommending SFSU’s Counseling & Psychological Services (CAPS) for anyone seeking support in response to the recent student deaths. CAPS is open every weekday from 8 a.m. to 4:45 p.m. and appointments can be made over the phone at (415) 338-2208.

“He just had such a bright future ahead of him,” Cook said. “We were just so, so close. I’m just gonna miss knowing — I can never talk to him again. He was really the only person that I knew who could always make me laugh and we had such a strong friendship [and] chemistry. He literally just never said a bad word about anyone. He was just so positive and so full of life. From the very beginning, he knew how lucky he was to have this life and he lived it so fully.”

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About the Contributor
Steven Rissotto
Steven Rissotto, Managing Editor
Steven Rissotto (he/him) is co-managing editor for Golden Gate Xpress. He is a journalism major with an education minor. A native of Pacifica, Steven attended Archbishop Riordan High School, where he played baseball and wrote on their award-winning newspaper, The Crusader. Before transferring to SFSU in Fall 2022, he attended Skyline College for two years and wrote for The Skyline View. He also covers the San Francisco Giants for SF Giants Baseball Insider on Sports Illustrated.  In his spare time, Steven enjoys cracking jokes, watching documentaries and sports, reading biographies and recording his baseball podcast, RizzoCast.

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