CHATTANOOGA, TN – The four joined the Marines to serve their country, willing to go to dangerous lands out of a sense of duty, idealism and patriotism. And three of them did so, risking their lives in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Ultimately, the men died together in Chattanooga, Tennessee.
Authorities are still trying to piece together why Mohammad Youssuf Abdulazeez killed the four at a Navy operational center in the southeastern Tennessee city, which is thousands of miles from any war zone. Terrorism is being investigated as one possibility, especially considering that a military recruiting center was also shot at, though it was not immediately known whether Abdulazeez had any connection to any known militant group.
Nor is it known whether he had any link to those killed or wounded. Among the latter are sailor Randall Smith, who was shot in the liver, colon and stomach, according to his grandmother Linda Wallace; a Marine recruiter shot in the leg; and responding Chattanooga police Officer Dennis Pedigo, who was shot in the ankle.
Whatever the motive, it’s clear that there are families who are now hurting badly, as is the community at large.
“Each of these men who lost their lives had served incredibly well,” Gov. Bill Haslam told CNN on Friday morning. “We’re heartbroken.”
Thomas Sullivan: ‘He was our hero’
When Springfield, Massachusetts, resident Jim Sheremeta first heard of Thomas Sullivan’s death, it hit close to home. Sullivan, after all, also called Springfield home.
“My heart just went down to my toes because I said, ‘My God,’ ” he said.
As Gov. Charlie Baker posted a picture of Sullivan on Facebook alongside the words “terror comes home to Massachusetts,” Springfield acknowledged the loss by lowering the American flag to half-staff outside City Hall.
“Sgt. Sullivan dedicated his life in brave service to his country,” Mayor Domenic Sarno said in lamenting an “assassination” and “tragic loss.” “And to see it end under such tragic circumstances is heartbreaking.”
Sullivan joined the military in 1997 and had taken three tours of duty in the Marines since then, the first spanning parts of 2004 and 2005 and the most recent running from August 2014 to January 2015.
He was a two-time Purple Heart winner, among many other honors, including a Good Conduct Medal, Combat Action Ribbon and Global War on Terrorism Service Medal, according to the military
But Sullivan was more than the recognitions he received.
John Sullivan, co-owner with Thomas’ brother Joe of Nathan Bill’s Bar and Restaurant in Springfield, described the Marine as a graduate of Cathedral High School who grew up in Springfield’s East Forest Park neighborhood and went on to become a gunnery sergeant.
“He was our hero,” a Facebook post states, “and he will never be forgotten.”
Skip Wells: ‘You couldn’t find a nicer guy’
The U.S. military lists his name as Squire K. Wells, but to those who know him best, he was simply Skip.
A 2012 graduate of Sprayberry High in the Atlanta suburb of Marietta, where he was in the band, Wells went on to study history at Georgia Southern University. The school said Wells was enrolled from 2012 through fall 2013.
Just last month, his mother, Cathy, posted touching words about the love between her and her son, to which Skip replied that he would readily carry his mother to safety “on my back … with a weapon.” Pictures posted recently to Facebook showed mother and son on a trip to Disney World.
He became a Marine in 2014 and was a lance corporal, according to the military. Listed as a field artillery cannoneer, Wells had already earned a National Defense Service Medal.
Cathy Wells said, “My son died doing what he loved for the love of his country and his family.”
Many who knew him and his mother posted tributes to him on social media, such as one man who said that his “heart is breaking.”
Members of Wells’ family, including his mother, served in the military, Garrett Reed said. Wells loved being part of his high school’s JROTC program.
“He loved his country,” said Reed, a close friend since fourth grade who considered Wells’ mother his own “second mother.”
And Wells, himself, was loved by those who knew him.
“He was a real genuine guy, he had a real caring spirit, (and was a) funny dude,” Reed said. “Just a real, real nice guy. You couldn’t find a nicer guy than him.”
David Wyatt: Beloved father and husband
David Wyatt, a staff sergeant, accomplished a great deal in his military career, which began in 2004.
He deployed for much of 2007 and again in 2008 as part of Operation Iraqi Freedom, then again for parts of 2010 and 2011 for what the military called Operation Enduring Freedom — which relates to the yearslong campaign in Afghanistan. Wyatt amassed many medals, commendations and other honors for his service.
Lorri Wyatt acknowledged her husband’s death in a post on Facebook with a picture of him with his arms around his two small children as they clutch American flags.
Many of their friends made that image or a Marine Corps logo covered by a black ribbon their own profile picture, while others posted condolences and remembrances.
“He was such a great husband and father,” wrote one woman. “I’m so so sorry for you Lorri.”
The widow responded with thanks, as well as an admission that she couldn’t sleep. She also posted another photo of her and David, in uniform.
Carson Holmquist: ‘We miss you Daddy’
Sgt. Carson Holmquist’s Facebook page featured an image of a waving American flag. His country — and serving — were clearly very much part of who he was.
He enlisted in the Marines in January 2009 and had already had two tours — one in 2013, the other in 2014 — in Afghanistan. Holmquist got numerous recognitions for his work; the military identified him as an automotive maintenance technician.
His Facebook page indicates Holmquist is from Grantsburg, Wisconsin, and was living in Jacksonville, North Carolina. It also features a number of heartbreaking pictures of him sharing tender moments with his wife and son.
In one of those images, the little boy is wearing what look like his father’s combat boots next to a sign that says, “We miss you Daddy.” In another, he holds up a sign saying “Welcome home Daddy.”
His mother has her own sign that read, “We’ve waited 244 days for this moment. Welcome home Sgt. Holmquist.”