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Families Mourn 15 Marines, 1 Navy Sailor Killed in Plane Crash

Friends and families are mourning the 15 Marines and the Navy sailor killed in a plane crash in Mississippi this week.
Image: Marines Plane Crash
This combination of undated photos released by the U.S. Marine Corps on Friday, July 14, 2017, shows eight of the 16 the victims killed in a military plane crash earlier in the week in Mississippi. They are, top row from left, Cpl. Dan Baldassare, Staff Sgt. Robert Cox, Capt. Sean Elliott and Maj. Caine Goyette; bottom row, from left, Gunnery Sgt. Mark Hopkins, Sgt. Chad Jenson, Gunnery Sgt. Brendan Johnson, Sgt. Julian Kevianne.U.S. Marine Corps / AP
/ Source: The Associated Press

The 15 Marines and a Navy sailor killed in a military plane crash earlier this week in Mississippi came from around the country. Six of the Marines and the sailor were from an elite Marine Raider battalion at Camp Lejeune, North Carolina.

"It is a tight-knit community, made up of some of the most highly trained, dedicated Marines I have ever known," Marines Special Operations Command Deputy Commander Col. Stephen Grass told reporters in North Carolina Friday. "As a team, as a family, we're going to pull together to see this through."

Nine of them were based out of Stewart Air National Guard Base in Newburgh, New York, home of a Marine Aerial Refueling and Transport Squadron.

Mississippi Gov. Phil Bryant said the final set of remains was recovered Thursday from a farm field where the KC-130 crashed Monday. Remains were flown Thursday to Dover Air Force Base in Delaware, where military officials say they will be processed by Air Force mortuary personnel and then released to their grieving families.

Here are brief portraits of the victims:

Sgt. Chad Jenson from Redondo Beach, California, was remembered by high school teammates as a selfless center on a championship high school football team whose commitment ultimately powered him into the Marines' elite 2nd Raider Battalion at Camp Lejeune.

Kyle Demarco, the quarterback for the Mira Costa High School championship team, told the Daily Breeze that he broke into tears when he learned Jenson had died.

"If I have a kid one day, I want him to have the type of character that Chad did," Demarco said.

Chuck Arrasmith, Jenson's offensive line coach in high school, remained close to him after he signed up for the Marines in 2010. He said Jenson didn't "see a ceiling in his life. He just keeps breaking through and achieving more."

Arrasmith said it was that relentless drive that powered his preparation to join the special forces. On leave, Jenson filled a backpack with bricks, strapped it to his back and ran up and down the stairs at school. Coaches found him in the school's pool, trying to turn himself into a swimmer.

"He knew going into that that this was going to be an extreme challenge," Arrasmith said.

Image: Marines Plane Crash
This combination of undated photos released by the U.S. Marine Corps on Friday, July 14, 2017, shows eight of the 16 the victims killed in a military plane crash earlier in the week in Mississippi. They are, top row from left, Cpl. Dan Baldassare, Staff Sgt. Robert Cox, Capt. Sean Elliott and Maj. Caine Goyette; bottom row, from left, Gunnery Sgt. Mark Hopkins, Sgt. Chad Jenson, Gunnery Sgt. Brendan Johnson, Sgt. Julian Kevianne.U.S. Marine Corps / AP

Cpl. Collin Schaaff, 22, joined the Marines in 2013 after graduating from Franklin Pierce High School in Tacoma, Washington.

Stationed at Stewart, his job included loading ordinance onto planes.

Schaaff and his wife, Sarah Beth Schaff, have a 1-year-old daughter, with a second daughter due in November. The family declined comment through friends.

Tono Sablan went to high school with Schaaff, graduating a year behind him. He said he and Schaaff were in a leadership class.

"As his heart, he was just a fun, goofy guy. Not a day went by without him smiling."

Schaaff was a member of an Air Force Junior ROTC unit that competed in a national drill competition.

"There was not a question he was joining the Marines," Sablan said. "That was rock-solid. The type of dedication that he had, if he was committed to something, he was going to go all the way."

Gunnery Sgt. Mark Hopkins is being remembered by his family as a "creative, compassionate man who exuded happiness and brightened every room he walked into."

Hopkins, a navigator stationed at Stewart, joined the Marines in 2001, shortly after graduating from Great Bridge High School in Chesapeake, Virginia. Nicknamed "Hoppy," his deployments included a tour in Okinawa from 2004 to 2006.

Hopkins leaves behind his wife, Patricia and three children, 2-year-old Wyatt, 1-year-old Abby and infant Lewis, according to a family statement released through Hopkins' church near the air base in New York.

"He was an avid traveler and especially enjoyed spur-of-the-moment road trips — there was never a dull moment with him," the statement says. "He was a deeply spiritual man who shared his faith with others and lived his life to its fullest."

Hopkins was born in Ypsilanti, Michigan and his mother and brother live in nearby Belleville. A sister lives in Middleton, Wisconsin, while a brother lives in Louisville, Kentucky.

Image: Marines Plane Crash
This combination of undated photos released by the U.S. Marine Corps on Friday, July 14, 2017, shows eight of the 16 the victims killed in a military plane crash earlier in the week in Mississippi. They are, top row from left, Cpl. Staff Sgt. William Joseph Kundrat, Sgt. Talon Leach, Sgt. Owen Lennon and Navy Corpsman Ryan Lohrey; bottom row, from left, Sgt. Joseph Murray, Cpl. Collin Schaaff, Sgt. Dietrich Schmieman and Staff Sgt. Joshua Snowden.U.S. Marine Corps / AP

Sgt. Dietrich Schmieman joined the Marine Corps at age 19 with an ambition to serve in special operations, his father said.

Schmieman, 26, grew up in Richland, Washington, and enlisted after completing an academic program that allows students to earn a college associate's degree while they finish high school, said his father Eric Schmieman.

"The most common comments his friends made about him were that he helped them, and he inspired them to live life to the fullest," Eric Schmieman told The Associated Press in a phone interview. "He certainly did that himself."

He said his son served in a reconnaissance unit before joining the elite Raider command stationed at Camp Lejeune about two years ago

The Rev. Corey Smith of Richland Lutheran Church, who was Dietrich Schmieman's youth pastor from sixth grade until he enlisted, said the young man joined the Marines out of a desire to serve others.

"That's the kind of heart he had," he said in a phone interview. "He loved to help people."

Capt. Sean Elliott, one of the plane's pilots, had a longtime love affair with the C-130. His father, John Elliott, tells San Diego's Union-Tribune that his son used to take a model C-130 loaded with toy soldiers to bed when he was 4 years old.

"He slept with it like you would a teddy bear," John Elliott said. "A big plane, in the bed. A silly plastic thing, with the toy soldiers inside. It went to bed with him every night for quite a long time."

His mother, Cynthia Elliott, said her son was "enamored" with aircraft and the military at least since attending a childhood air show.

A prep standout in tennis, the 6-foot 2-inch Elliott was renowned for a booming serve. His younger brother Erik went pro, but Sean Elliott went to officers' school, graduating from the University of California, Davis.

"He was always looking out for others, starting with me but then continuing to his fraternity brothers and his Marines," Erik Elliott said.

Stationed at Stewart, Elliott got his Marine Corps call sign "Puffin" because he refused to hunt the nesting and defenseless birds during a stopover in Iceland, his father said.

Navy Hospital Corpsman 2nd Class Ryan Lohrey was a high school football standout in Indiana who had gotten married weeks before the crash.

His father, Michael Lohrey, told The Herald Bulletin newspaper that his son enlisted in the Navy after high school and survived two tours overseas in Iraq and Afghanistan, making his death on the way to training all the more tragic.

"I never would have expected this to happen," he said.

Ryan Lohrey had been awarded a Purple Heart for being wounded while serving.

Lohrey said his son, who had two children of his own, wanted to use his skills as a medic to eventually pursue a career in nursing. The younger Lohrey, stationed at Lejeune was married in early June.

A high school football and golf teammate, Chris Parrish, told the newspaper the Navy corpsman had a fearless streak when it came to BMX biking, skateboarding and roller-blading.

"He wasn't scared of anything," Parrish said. "That's probably why he was so good in the Navy."

Indiana's governor joined a congressman and senator in offering condolences.

"Words cannot express the depth of sorrow I feel for his wife and two young children, especially," Gov. Eric Holcomb said.

Staff Sgt. William Joseph Kundrat, 33, grew up in Frederick, Maryland, where the Marine's parents, Joseph and Lynda, still live.

His mother confirmed her son's death in a telephone interview Wednesday with The Frederick News-Post.

"Every breath of air you take, all the things you're able to do, you can do those things because of people like my son," she told the newspaper. "I'll never forget that."

Kundrat graduated in 2002 from Gov. Thomas Johnson High School in Frederick, where he played football and lacrosse. He also was an Eagle Scout.

After graduation, he joined the Marines. And in 2004, Kundrat married classmate Ashley Cregger, according to the paper. It said they lived in Holly Ridge, North Carolina, and had two children together.

Kundrat served in Iraq, his mother said, later joining the Marine Corps Forces Special Operations Command 2nd Marine Raider battalion stationed at Camp Lejeune. Said his mother: "He was a great Marine."

Gunnery Sgt. Brendan Johnson, 46, told his father he had the best job in the Marine Corps.

Kevin Johnson of Colchester, Vermont, recalled his son said, "I get to fly everywhere." His son was based at Stewart, traveling back and forth across the Atlantic and Pacific and touring many countries.

Image: Marines Plane Crash
The United States flag flies at half-staff over the state Capitol on July 12, 2017 in Raleigh, North Carolina, following the death of six Marines and a Navy sailor from Camp Lejeune, who were among the 16 service members killed Monday when their plane crashed in a field in rural Mississippi.Gerry Broome / AP

Brendan Johnson joined the Marines after graduating from Johnson State College in Vermont. A fine arts major, Johnson once surprised the family with portraits he painted based on old pictures of his grandfather and father-in-law when they graduated from Navy boot camp.\

The elder Johnson said his son, an active reservist who was taking on more administrative work, was looking to retire next year. Plans included possibly returning to school for a master's degree and then moving from Stewart at Newburgh New York, to Montana, home to his wife Anna. He said Brendan loved the outdoors and was considering a job as a park ranger or a fish and game warden.

"He was thinking of looking into that, but he said, 'You know, I've got some time,'" Johnson said. "We'll miss him."

Sgt. Julian Kevianne, 31, joined the Marines in 2009 because he wanted to protect and defend the country, his brother told the Detroit Free Press.

"The Marines knocked on my mother's door at 2 this morning," Carlo Kevianne said late Tuesday. "They said his plane went down, and they weren't able to find him."

A new concrete walkway was poured Tuesday at Carlo Kevianne's home. Julian's mother, Tina Albo, carved a tribute to her late son: "Peace of my heart is in heaven."

John Allen, a cousin of Kevianne, told The Detroit News that Kevianne talked about joining the military when he was younger. Allen said Kevianne could be quiet with people he didn't know, "but once he was comfortable with you, he was a loud blast of fun."

"We don't have any words right now. We're hurting," sister Tania Kevianne, 27, told The New York Daily News. "He was the best man."

Kevianne, an active reservist and flight engineer, was based at Stewart and lived with his wife Sherry Jennings-Kevianne in New Windsor, New York.

Sgt. Owen Lennon, 26, grew up in Pomona, New York, playing football and tennis for Ramapo High School in Rockland County before graduating in 2008.

A man answering the phone at the family's home in Pomona confirmed the death to The Journal News, but said the family was grieving and declined to comment.

Lennon's sister, Kelly Lennon, posted a remembrance on Facebook, saying, "You may have been the youngest, but we always looked up to you. Our hero, Owen Lennon. (broken heart) sending love to the other USMC families that lost loved ones last night."

Lennon, an active reservist who joined the Marines in 2010, was stationed at Stewart.

Sgt. Joseph Murray's family recalls him as a ukulele player, former surfer kid and deeply religious family man who excelled in the Marine Corps.

Image: Marines Plane Crash
Terry Murray hugs his daughter Grace, 18, after speaking on behalf of his family about the loss of his son, Marines Sgt. Joseph Murray, at a press conference on July 12, 2017 in Jacksonville, Florida. Bob Mack / The Florida Times-Union via AP

Terry Murray told reporters Wednesday the 26-year-old special operations Marine had been a surfer at Sandalwood High School in Jacksonville, Florida, who surprised his military veteran parents by joining the Marines.

The father said his son was at the center of family life and his Marine units, sharing his Christian faith by serving others and his country. Terry Murray said one Marine told him that Joseph hummed praise songs constantly on patrol.

"When Joseph stopped singing praises, they took their safeties off their weapons, because they immediately thought something was up," Terry Murray said.

Murray leaves a widow, Gayle, and four children — a 5-year-old, a 3-year-old, and twin 1-year-olds.

"He loved to play his guitar and ukulele for us," Gayle Murray said in a statement. "What he wanted most in the world besides our happiness was to destroy evil on this earth.

Murray, who joined the Marines in 2009, was stationed at Camp Lejeune.

Cpl. Dan Baldassare, 20, had wanted to be a Marine since he was in middle school, his friend Dan McGowan told WPIX-TV.

"He actually would bring military gloves to football practice and play with them," said McGowan, who drove his friend to practice in high school. "He was a patriot and all he wanted to do was serve our country. Everyone had a lot of respect for Dan."

On Wednesday, after the crewmaster of the KC-130 died in the Mississippi crash, a marine sergeant guarded the home where Baldassare grew up in suburban Colts Neck, New Jersey.

That sergeant told the Asbury Park Press that Baldassare's family wanted privacy and was declining comment.

"We're so sorry and our heart is just breaking, just breaking for them," neighbor Rosalind Innucci, said of Baldassare's parents and sister. Innucci has lived on street for 14 years.

Baldassare, who joined the Marines in 2015, was stationed at Stewart.

Staff Sgt. Joshua Snowden, a flight engineer on the transport plane, grew up in the Dallas area and graduated from Highland Park High School in 2004, having already signed up for the Marines, The Dallas Morning News reports.

"He was a dedicated Marine, a steadfast friend, and an honorable man," Sara Quarterman, Snowden's sister, said in a statement on behalf of Snowden's family. "He had an exuberant presence that could fill any space. You always knew when Joshua entered a room, and you always knew when he left. Joshua was a positive force in the life of everyone he met.

"To borrow the words of one of his friends, 'heaven has gained one hell of an angel.'"

Snowden himself often displayed his Texas roots and love of the Dallas Cowboys on Facebook, even while stationed at Stewart as an active reservist.

"I can tell you that Josh loved his family and friends, God, his country, and country-western music and dancing," Snowden's aunt, Linda Hughes, told the Times Herald-Record of Middletown, New York. "He was one of the warmest, kindest, more patriotic people I've ever known."

Maj. Caine Goyette was the commander of the KC-130 and the highest ranking Marine on board.

Goyette grew up near Albany, New York, graduating from Waterford-Halfmoon High School in 1994, and then from Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute with an engineering degree in 2002, WTEN-TV reported.

"His service and sacrifice for our nation will endure as a testament to America's highest ideals. We are extremely saddened by this tragic loss," said U.S. Rep. Paul Tonko.

He had been deployed for Operation Enduring Freedom in September 2005, and was the recipient of many awards and decorations including the Navy and Marine Corps Commendation Medal; the Navy and Marine Corps Achievement Medal; the Global War on Terrorism Expeditionary Medal; and Global War on Terrorism Service Medal.

Sgt. Talon Leach had joined the Marine Corps in 2010 after attending North Callaway High School near Fulton, Missouri. He was part of the 2nd Raider Battalion, stationed at Camp Lejeune.

Leach's survivors include his widow, Sara Leach; father, Tab Leach; mother, Lisa Corbett; and several siblings.

"He was definitely one to pull for the underdog," Tab Leach told KRCG-TV. "If there was a group of people and someone was picking on one kid, that was the kid he would gravitate to and stick up for."

Leach said his son was scheduled to come home on leave in December and they had been planning on going deer hunting.

"Who wouldn't be proud of their son for the ultimate sacrifice?" Leach said. "Our freedoms have been bought with a lot of people's blood and I have respect for anybody that wants to serve or has served."

Staff Sgt. Robert Cox, a critical skills operator from Ventura, California, was stationed at Camp Lejeune, North Carolina, the Marines said in a news release Friday. Records show Cox attended Ventura High School and joined the Marines in 2007, serving four tours of duty overseas.

Charlie Jasper said he met Cox, who had been a Marine reservist, when Cox was shifting to active duty and training to join special forces.

"He wanted to do something more," said Jasper.

An Army veteran, Jasper said Cox inspired him to get back into shape, saying Cox would have been an asset to any military unit.

"He was just the kind of guy who by being there, improved the situation," Jasper said.

David Huffman said he met Cox while playing airsoft, a military simulation sport, in southern California. He said Cox used airsoft as part of his training for the 2nd Raider Battalion, loading up his gear with bricks to make his pack heavier when others were shedding weight.

"Robert Cox was the best of the best, the most humble Marine you would meet in your life," Huffman said.