CHATTANOOGA, Tenn. — They joined the Marines to serve their country, willing to go to dangerous lands out of a sense of duty, idealism and patriotism.
Ultimately, they died in Chattanooga, Tennessee.
Authorities are still trying to piece together why Mohammad Youssuf Abdulazeez killed four Marines at a Navy operational center in the southeastern Tennessee city, which is thousands of miles from any war zone but unfortunately not bloodshed.
The Marines killed were Carson Holmquist, David Wyatt, Skip Wells and Thomas J. Sullivan, according to multiple sources.
Terrorism is being investigated as one possibility, especially considering that a military recruiting center was also shot at, though it was not immediately known if Abdulazeez had any connection to any known terrorist group.
Nor is it known if he had any link to the four people killed or the others wounded — one a male sailor in “pretty serious condition” after surgery, according to a Pentagon official, and the other identified by a law enforcement source as responding Chattanooga police Officer Dennis Pedigo, who was shot in the ankle.
Whatever the motive, it’s clear that four families are hurting badly, as is the community at large.
“Each of these men who lost their lives had served incredibly well,” Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam told CNN on Friday morning. “We’re heartbroken.”
Thomas Sullivan: ‘He was our hero’
Massachusetts officials say one of the victims is Thomas Sullivan, a Springfield native who was a Marine Corps. gunnery sergeant. Gov. Charlie Baker posted a picture of Sullivan on Facebook and the words “terror comes home to Massachusetts,” and Springfield Mayor Domenic Sarno lamented an “assassination” and “tragic loss.”
“Sgt. Sullivan dedicated his life in brave service to his country,” Sarno said, “and to see it end under such tragic circumstances is heartbreaking.”
Flags were lowered to half-staff outside City Hall, and city spokesman James Leydon said Sullivan’s family is “still trying to come to terms with it all.” So, too, are people in the community, like resident Jim Sheremeta, who said the death hit close to home.
“My heart just went down to my toes because I said, ‘My God,’ ” he said.
John Sullivan, co-owner with Thomas’ brother Joe of Nathan Bill’s Bar and Restaurant in Springfield, changed his Facebook profile picture to a split shot of his smiling brother in uniform and a black ribbon over the Marines Corps logo. The ribbon has the words “in remembrance,” and below it appears, “R.I.P. Tommy.”
The Facebook page describes the late 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,” one post states, “and he will never be forgotten.”
Skip Wells: ‘You couldn’t find a nicer guy’
Skip Wells was another of those gunned down, according friends of his family.
A 2012 graduate of Sprayberry High in the Atlanta suburb of Marietta, Georgia, where he was in the band, Wells went on to study history at Georgia Southern University. The school said Wells was enrolled there 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 also showed mother and son on a trip to Disney World.
When asked Friday about her son’s death, 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, like one man who said that his “heart is breaking.”
Many members of Wells’ family, including his mother, served in the military, Garrett Reed said. Wells loved being part of his high school’s ROTC, or Reserve Officers’ Training Corps, 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.”
CNN’s Tina Burnside, AnneClaire Stapleton, Mi Seon Lee, Bob Crowley and David Shortell contributed to this report.