John Winkler was just beginning his life in Hollywood, but had left an indelible mark in his home state of Washington.
The 30-year-old aspiring producer, who found freelance work as a production assistant on Comedy Central hit “Tosh.0,” was shot and killed by officers of the LA County Sheriffs Department in West Hollywood on Monday. Winkler was mistaken for the assailant who had been keeping him hostage in an apartment complex on Palm Avenue. On Thursday, the LACSD admitted to culpability in Winkler’s death, which cut short the life of an aspiring producer who was remembered fondly by friends and family.
“He was a bright kid and he was really funny and enthusiastic and he went down there to make his way in that industry,” Anne-Marie Vanwart, Winkler’s aunt, told TheWrap on Friday. “I’ve known him since he was about 9-10 months old. He was really good to his grandparents, particularly good to his grandparents, and he had a lot of good friends here, friends that were good kids like he was.”
“Even after his death, he can still fill the air with happiness because of the way he lived,” a friend wrote on his Facebook profile photo earlier this week.
Winkler graduated from Puyallup High School in Puyallup, Washington, which is about 40 minutes south of Seattle and just 10 miles east of Tacoma, where Vanwart and other members of his family were located.
It was Winkler, Vanwart said, that always insisted on organizing family get-togethers. He had two younger brothers, and his aunt said that while they would fight like most brothers, he was fiercely protective of them, too. And, he was especially close with his grandparents, as she recalled in a now bittersweet anecdote.
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“His grandma was passing away and she was very kind of just in the last stage of hospice care, she was just pretty much asleep and Johnny walked into the room, he walked over and said, ‘Hi grandma, how’s it hanging?’ He put out his hand and she just woke up, like, ‘Oh Johnny, how are ya?'” Vanwart recalled. “I think he was there six or seven hours, just chatting with his grandma. That’s the kind of kid he was, he didn’t really think anything of doing that for his grandparents.”
Winkler attended the Seattle Film Institute and graduated in 2010. Last fall, he packed his car and moved to Los Angeles in hopes of making a career in the entertainment industry; a Facebook photo from last Halloween shows him dressed as Seth Rogen‘s character in “Pineapple Express,” while a friend played the James Franco character.
In a statement, the network for whom he had just started working expressed sadness over his loss.
“Comedy Central and ‘Tosh.0’ extend their deepest condolences to the family of John Winkler,” the cable channel said. “We only had the privilege of working with him for a short while and extend heartfelt sympathy to his family and friends during this tragic time.”
His building on Palm has seen multiple tragedies in the last few weeks, with an unrelated stabbing death taking place at the end of March. The building has since installed two security guards, per a note left for residents earlier this week.
With many details left to be uncovered, arrangements for Winkler were not immediately available; the nature of his death was unknown to friends and family in Washington, as well.
“He decided [Hollywood] was where he wanted to make his living. That’s kind of what we all want to do when we’re young, to go take a chance,” Vanwart said. “We were all kind of pleased that he said I’ll pack my car and take my chances… I think he had a good shot at it, he was a good kid”
The building on Palm Ave: