- The Washington Times - Saturday, November 7, 2009

The 13 people killed when an Army psychiatrist allegedly opened fire on fellow soldiers at Fort Hood, Texas, on Thursday included a pregnant woman who was preparing to return home, a man who quit a furniture company job to join the military about a year ago, a newlywed who had served in Iraq and a woman who had vowed to take on Osama bin Laden after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks. Here is a look at some of the victims.

Francheska Velez

Ms. Velez, 21, of Chicago, was pregnant and preparing to return home. A friend, Sasha Ramos, described her as a fun-loving person who wrote poetry and loved dancing.

“She was like my sister,” Miss Ramos, 21, said. “She was the most fun and happy person you could know. She never did anything wrong to anybody.”

Family members said Ms. Velez had recently returned from deployment in Iraq and had sought a lifelong career in the Army.

“She was a very happy girl and sweet,” said her father, Juan Guillermo Velez, his eyes red from crying. “She had the spirit of a child.”

Miss Ramos, who also served briefly in the military, couldn’t reconcile that her friend was killed in this country - just after leaving a war zone.

“It makes it a lot harder,” she said. “This is not something a soldier expects - to have someone in our uniform go start shooting at us.”

Michael Grant Cahill

Mr. Cahill, a 62-year-old physician assistant, suffered a heart attack two weeks ago and returned to work at the base as a civilian employee after taking just one week off for recovery, said his daughter Keely Vanacker.

“He survived that. He was getting back on track, and he gets killed by a gunman,” Miss Vanacker said, her words bare with shock and disbelief.

Mr. Cahill, of Cameron Texas, helped treat soldiers returning from tours of duty or preparing for deployment. Often, Miss Vanacker said, Mr. Cahill would walk young soldiers to where they needed to go, just to make sure they got the right treatment.

“He loved his patients, and his patients loved him,” said Miss Vanacker, 33, the oldest of Mr. Cahill’s three adult children. “He just felt his job was important.”

Mr. Cahill, who was born in Spokane, Wash., had worked as a civilian contractor at Fort Hood for about four years, after jobs in rural health clinics and at Veterans Affairs hospitals. He and his wife, Joleen, had been married 37 years.

Miss Vanacker described her father as a gregarious man and a voracious reader who could talk for hours about any subject.

The family’s typical Thanksgiving dinners ended with board games and long conversations over the table, said Miss Vanacker, whose voice often cracked with emotion as she remembered her father. “Now, who I am going to talk to?”

Capt. John Gaffaney

Capt. Gaffaney, 56, was a psychiatric nurse who worked for San Diego County, Calif., for more than 20 years and had arrived at Fort Hood the day before the shooting to prepare for a deployment to Iraq.

Capt. Gaffaney, who was born in Williston, N.D., had served in the Navy and later the California National Guard, his family said. After the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, he tried to sign up again for military service. Although the Army Reserves at first declined, he got the call about two years ago asking him to rejoin, said his friend and co-worker Stephanie Powell.

“He wanted to help the boys in Iraq and Afghanistan deal with the trauma of what they were seeing,” Ms. Powell said. “He was an honorable man. He just wanted to serve in any way he can.”

His family described him as an avid baseball card collector and fan of the San Diego Padres who liked to read military novels and ride his Harley-Davidson motorcycle.

Capt. Gaffaney supervised a team of six social workers, including Ms. Powell, at the county’s Adult Protective Services department. Ellen Schmeding, assistant deputy director for the county’s Health and Human Services Agency, said Capt. Gaffaney was a strong leader.

He is survived by a wife and a son.

Staff Sgt. Justin M. DeCrow

Sgt. DeCrow, 32, was helping train soldiers on how to help veterans with paperwork and had felt safe on the Army post.

“He was on a base,” his wife, MaryKay DeCrow, said in a telephone interview from the couple’s home at Fort Gordon, Ga., where she had hoped to be reunited after her husband finished his work at Fort Hood. “They should be safe there. They should be safe.”

His wife said she wanted everyone to know what a loving man he was. The couple have a 13-year-old daughter, Kylah.

“He was well loved by everyone,” she said through sobs. “He was a loving father and husband and he will be missed by all.”

Sgt. DeCrow’s father, Daniel DeCrow, of Fulton, Ind., said his son graduated high school in Plymouth, Ind., and married his high school sweetheart that summer before joining the Army. The couple moved near Fort Gordon about five years ago, he said.

About a year ago, his son was stationed in Korea for a year. When he returned to the U.S., the Army moved him to Fort Hood while he waited for a position to open up in Fort Gordon so he could move back with his wife and daughter, Mr. DeCrow said.

Mr. DeCrow said he talked to his son last week to ask him how things were going at Fort Hood.

“As usual, the last words out of my mouth to him were that I was proud of him,” he said. “That’s what I said to him every time - that I loved him and I was proud of what he was doing. I can carry that around in my heart.”

Pfc. Aaron Thomas Nemelka

Pfc. Nemelka, 19, of the Salt Lake City suburb of West Jordan, Utah, chose to join the Army instead of going on a mission for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, his uncle Christopher Nemelka said.

“As a person, Aaron was as soft and kind and as gentle as they come, a sweetheart,” his uncle said. “What I loved about the kid was his independence of thought.”

Pfc. Nemelka, the youngest of four children, was scheduled to be deployed to Afghanistan in January, his family said. He enlisted in the Army in October 2008, Utah National Guard Lt. Col. Lisa Olsen said.

Pfc. Michael Pearson

Pfc. Pearson, 21, of the Chicago suburb of Bolingbrook, Ill., quit what he figured was a dead-end furniture company job to join the Army about a year ago.

“He felt he was in a rut. He wanted to travel, see the world,” his mother, Sheryll Pearson, told the Chicago Tribune. “He also wanted an opportunity to serve the country.”

At Pfc. Pearson’s family home Friday, a yellow ribbon was tied to a porch light and a sticker stamped with American flags on the front door read, “United we stand.”

Neighbor Jessica Koerber, who was with Pfc. Pearson’s parents when they received word Thursday their son had died, described him as a man who clearly loved his family - someone who enjoyed horsing around with his nieces and nephews, and other times playing his guitar.

“That family lost their gem,” she told the AP. “He was a great kid, a great guy. … Mikey was one of a kind.”

Mrs. Pearson said she hadn’t seen her son for a year because he had been training. She told the Tribune that when she last talked to him on the phone two days ago, they had discussed how he would be coming home for Christmas.

Spc. Jason Dean Hunt

Spc. Hunt, 22, of Frederick, Okla., went into the military after graduating from Tipton High School in 2005 and had gotten married just two months ago, his mother, Gale Hunt, said. He had served 3 1/2 years in the Army, including a stint in Iraq.

Mrs. Hunt said two uniformed soldiers came to her door late Thursday night to notify her of her son’s death.

Spc. Hunt, known as J.D., was “just kind of a quiet boy and a good kid, very kind,” said Kathy Gray, an administrative assistant at Tipton Schools.

His mother said he was family oriented.

“He didn’t go in for hunting or sports,” Mrs. Hunt said. “He was a very quiet boy who enjoyed video games.”

He had re-enlisted for six years after serving his initial two-year assignment, she said. Spc. Hunt was previously stationed at Fort Stewart in Georgia.

Sgt. Amy Krueger

Sgt. Krueger, 29, of Kiel, Wis., joined the Army after the 2001 terrorist attacks and had vowed to take on Osama bin Laden, her mother, Jeri Krueger said.

Sgt. Krueger arrived at Fort Hood on Tuesday and was scheduled to be sent to Afghanistan in December, her mother told the Herald Times Reporter of Manitowoc.

Mrs. Krueger recalled telling her daughter that she could not take on bin Laden by herself.

“Watch me,” her daughter replied.

Kiel High School Principal Dario Talerico told the Associated Press that Sgt. Krueger graduated from the school in 1998 and had spoken at least once to local elementary school students about her career.

“I just remember that Amy was a very good kid, who like most kids in a small town are just looking for what their next step in life was going to be and she chose the military,” Mr. Talerico said. “Once she got into the military, she really connected with that kind of lifestyle and was really proud to serve her country.”

Pfc. Kham Xiong

Pfc. Xiong, 23, of St. Paul, Minn., graduated from Community of Peace Academy in 2004.

“The sad part is that he had been taught and been trained to protect and to fight. Yet it’s such a tragedy that he did not have the opportunity to protect himself and the base,” his father, Chor Xiong, told KSTP-TV through an interpreter.

Pfc. Xiong’s 17-year-old brother, Robert, described him as “the family clown, just a real good outgoing guy.”

Community of Peace Academy Principal Tim McGowan told the AP that Chor Xiong informed the charter school of his son’s death. Family members picked up pictures of Pfc. Xiong on Friday for a memorial service, Mr. McGowan said.

“He was just a well-rounded individual with a great personality. He was very fun-loving, one who brought a smile to everyone’s face he came across,” Mr. McGowan said.

Juanita Warman

Mrs. Warman, 55, was a military physician assistant with two daughters and six grandchildren.

Her sister, Margaret Yaggie of Roaring Branch in north-central Pennsylvania, told the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette that her sister attended Pittsburgh Langley High School and put herself through school at the University of Pittsburgh. She said her sister spent most of her career in the military.


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