COBB COUNTY, Ga. - A family spokesperson has confirmed one of the victims in the Chattanooga shooting attack was a man from Marietta.
Skip Wells, 21, was in one of the buildings when a man opened fire, according to family spokesperson Andy Kingery.
Wells was a graduate from Sprayberry High School. Kingrey said Wells went to college at Georgia Southern for a short time but “felt a calling to serve in the Marines.”
“We don’t understand the whys. Senseless is a word used too often but this you can’t even hang your hat on,” Kingery said.
Wells was swapping text messages Thursday with his girlfriend of 2 ½ years, excited that she had booked a flight to visit him in Chattanooga after months apart.
"Can't wait anymore," Wells texted. "Yes you can honey," his girlfriend, Caroline Dove, replied.
His next two words would be the last she'd ever hear from him.
"ACTIVE SHOOTER," he wrote.
She thought he was kidding: "You are so weird," she replied.
Hours of silence. "I love you," she tried. Hours more passed, the news out of Chattanooga becoming clearer. "Hon, I need you to answer me please," she wrote.
It would not be until Friday that she learned his fate.
The two met at Georgia Southern University, but he soon followed in his family footsteps and enlisted. His grandfather had been in the Air Force, and his grandmother and mother served in the Navy, Dove said. Dove, too, plans to enlist in the Marines, a process she began in November. She said she is not dissuaded by what happened.
Through tears, Dove remembered her boyfriend's love of flag football and Nerf guns, his passion for U.S. history, his ability to handle her when she was grouchy and how good he was at listening. He dreamed of being a drill sergeant, and when they last saw each other around Valentine's Day, he gave her a gold-and-silver ring. When the time came to propose, she said, he knew to ask her parents first.
Wells' mother was watching television coverage of the shooting when Marines appeared at her door. She knew what the visit meant.
"Every service parent, especially moms, dreads opening the front door and seeing people in uniform," said Andy Kingery, a friend who is acting as a family spokesman.
Late Friday the other victims were identified as: Gunnery Sgt. Thomas J. Sullivan of Hampden, Massachusetts; Staff Sgt. David A. Wyatt of Burke County, North Carolina; and Sgt. Carson A. Holmquist of Polk, Wisconsin. Sullivan, Wyatt and Holmquist had served in Iraq, Afghanistan or both.
Diante McIntosh told Channel 2’s Carl Willis that Wells was his best friend and roommate at Georgia Southern University and the day he met him, the first thing Wells said was that he wanted to be a Marine.
"He was the person ready to help anybody. He was like Rambo. If something was going down he was just ready to hop into action," McIntosh said.
McIntosh calls the attacks deplorable.
"It was a cheap shot. And there's no doubt in my mind that whatever way he passed away was in full honor," McIntosh said.
"It's terrifying, but it's what we signed up for. We all joined for all threats domestic or foreign," Lance Cpl. Austin Handle told Willis.
Handle has the perspective of having known all four of the Marines killed in the attack. He set up a place to honor them at Cumming’s Veterans War Memorial.
"They were great Marines. They're as good a Marine as they come. Whether that was Lance Cpl. Wells, Gunnery Sgt. Sullivan, Staff Sgt. Wyatt or Sgt. Holmquist," Handle said.
Handle said it's his hope that people will visit the memorial to honor their sacrifice.
"Even if they don't bring a card or a note or a flower, just that they come and pay their respects to the men that really ultimately sacrificed everything for each of us," Handle said.
"I've just been looking at pictures of him all day but he's going to live on in my heart no matter what," McIntosh said.
The first shooting happened at an Armed Forces recruitment center on Old Lee Highway. Investigators said 24-year-old Mohammod Youssuf Abdulazeez in a silver Mustang opened fire on the recruitment center, injuring one Marine at that location, who was shot in the ankle and rushed to a nearby hospital.
Police then perused the suspect to a naval training center where four Marines were killed in a shootout with the Abdulazeez. He was killed.
The mayor of Chattanooga called the incident “a nightmare for the city.”
Friends of Wells, who attended Georgia Southern University after graduating from the Cobb County high school in 2012, flooded Facebook overnight with messages of shock and condolence.
“Heard the news and immediately went into denial, but the truth is you are gone and for the first time in a long time I’m confused, I don’t know how to act or feel really,” Julio Aberto Pedraza wrote on Wells’ Facebook page, which is filled with photos of the young Marine. “All I can think about is all the good times in high school we had.”
More than 100 people left comments of condolence overnight on a posting about his death on the “Sprayberry High School Memorial” Facebook page that chronicles the deaths of the Marietta school’s alumni.
“Skip died doing what he chose to do,” Kingery said.
Kingery said the family is in a grieving process that will take a while.
In lieu of flowers or money, the family would suggest a gift to the following charity.
Please make contributions in the name of Lance Corporal Skip Wells to Marinesandmickey.org.
This group facilitates trips to Disney for Marines that meet certain needs and criteria.
Skip Wells was a huge fan of Disney World and the Marines. The family feels that his memory life would be properly honored by this group.
Our sister station in Boston, learned another victim was 40-year-old Thomas Sullivan. He was from Massachusetts.
A tribute post was posted on the page of Nathan Bill's Bar and Restaurant in Springfield, which Sullivan's brother reportedly owns.
"He was our hero and he will never be forgotten. Please keep his family & friends in your thoughts and prayers. Thank you Tommy for protecting us," the post reads.
Springfield Mayor Dominic Sarno said in a statement that Sullivan's death "is a tragic loss not just for the Springfield community but for our entire nation."
Staff Sgt. David A Wyatt was a father of two young children.
Wyatt lived in Burke County, NC before enlisting in 2004. He deployed three times to serve the county, including twice to Iraq.
Neighbor Donna Tate said she was heartbroken when she saw a van full of Marines driving down her street.
"The Marines came to our street and parked on the street, and three of them, dressed, came out of the van. They were driving in their dress uniforms with their portfolio, and from experience, I knew they were bringing some kind of tragic news to the family,” Tate said.
So proud a Marine was Sgt. Carson Holmquist that when he finished boot camp, he returned to his hometown of Grantsburg, Wisconsin, and paid a visit to his high school dressed in his formal blues. Grantsburg High School Principal Josh Watt, who was one of Holmquist's football coaches, remembers the day his former cornerback showed up, the pride in his accomplishment apparent.
"When he became a Marine he was very proud of that," Watt said Friday.
The principal remembered Holmquist as a strong player, an avid sportsman who loved to hunt and fish, a young man committed to succeeding. He graduated in 2008; the Pentagon said he enlisted in January 2009 and was serving as an automotive maintenance technician. He had completed two deployments as part of Operation Enduring Freedom.
Reached by phone, the slain Marine's father said he wasn't ready to talk yet, and his grandmother declined to comment as well. Sadness over the loss was permeating his small hometown.
"It's a very tough day in Grantsburg," Watt said.
New information arises about shooter as community mourns
More than 1,000 people attended an interfaith memorial service for victims of the Tennessee shootings Friday evening.
Held at Olivet Baptist Church, the program began with the crowd giving a standing ovation as a speaker repeatedly said, "We are Chattanooga strong!"
Members of the city's Islamic community sat in pews among the crowd as Christian pastors prayed for healing and peace and a rabbi read scripture. Gov. Bill Haslam quoted the Old Testament and said he prays that Chattanooga "would be a city that answers hate with love."
The U.S. Attorney for Tennessee's eastern division says the attacks on the two military facilities is being treated as a terrorism investigation.
Bill Killian said Thursday that the probe is being led by the FBI. Killian says investigators will "let the facts and the evidence lead us where it may."
The FBI says at least two long guns and one handgun, and some of the purchases were legal and some were not.
FBI agent Ed Reinhold did not go into specifics about the weapons at a news conference Friday. He said investigators were also looking at all of his overseas travel.
The FBI says Abdulazeez was wearing a load-bearing vest that allowed him to move about while carrying additional ammunition while he moved about.
Todd Schneider, a spokesman for FirstEnergy Corp.in Ohio, says Muhammad Abdulazeez was conditionally hired in 2013 as an engineer at a nuclear plant about 35 miles northeast of Cleveland. He spent 10 days there before he was let go because he failed a background check.
He would not say why Abdulazeez didn't pass the screening process. Abdulazeez underwent general training on company procedures, but his access was limited during his brief employment.
Schneider says he worked in an administrative building and was never allowed in the protected area of the plant near the reactor.
He says employees recognized a photo of Abdulazeez after the shooting and alerted company officials.
There will be a public memorial for Skip Wells Tuesday at Sprayberry High School in Marietta, Ga. Details are still being finalized, but the gathering will be in the school's stadium and begin at 7 p.m. Funeral arrangements are still pending.
A man who said he is a manager at Jersey Sports Bar and Grill sent WSB-TV a photo on Facebook, showing a reserved seat in the fallen Marine's honor.