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Church places Marine flag at serviceman’s seat

WOODSTOCK, Ga. (BP) — A single Marine flag stood in place at the orchestra chair where Skip Wells had played the clarinet for many years at First Baptist Church in Woodstock, Ga.

Members of the Atlanta-area church took time to pray Sunday (July 19) for the families of Lance Cpl. Skip Wells, 21, and four other servicemen killed by a gunman who attacked a military recruitment office July 16 a little more than an hour away in Chattanooga, Tenn.

“As we held hands and prayed for his family, I lost it,” Callie Jones wrote in a Facebook post accompanying a picture of the orchestra and Wells’ Marine photo.

“While I am mourning the loss of a sweet kid who loved his country, my heart was crushed for his momma!!” Jones wrote, adding a prayer, “Heavenly Father please comfort Skip’s momma and the other 4 mommas that lost their baby on Thursday!”

Wes Cantrell, the church’s young adult pastor, tweeted a picture of the stage as well, commenting, “The Marine flag took the place of Lance Corporal Skip Wells in the orchestra today. #SemperFi”

Wells was a 2012 graduate of Sprayberry High School who attended Georgia Southern University for a time before he “felt a calling to serve — in the Marines,” family spokesman Andy Kingery told the Atlanta Journal-Constitution. “He got out of boot camp about a year ago and was doing what was asked of him. … He understood the risk he was taking by putting on a uniform, and Skip died doing what he chose to do.”

Those who died with Wells were Gunnery Sgt. Thomas J. Sullivan, a two-time Purple Heart recipient from Hampden, Mass.; Sgt. Carson A. Holmquist, of Polk, Wis.; and Staff Sgt. David A. Wyatt of Burke, N.C. Petty Officer 2nd Class Randall Smith, originally of Paulding, Ohio, was seriously wounded in the attack and died from his wounds July 18. Smith had been living in the north Georgia town of Rossville with his wife and three young daughters.

For Skip Wells, military service was a part of his family’s DNA. His great-grandfather served during World War II, his grandfather was in the Air Force during the Cuban Missile Crisis and his father Kip served during Operation Desert Storm, the latter said in a statement to the media.

Skip Wells’ influence at First Woodstock was recounted prior to a time of prayer Sunday morning.

Relaying the words of orchestra director Gary Gaston, Jake Holman of the church’s music staff told the congregation, “Gary said Skip was the kind of young man you could always count on.” Skip “always showed up early and stayed until everyone was gone. He always had his Bible with him when he came to church [and] related well to people of all ages.”

Holman then relayed information passed along to Wells’ mother, Cathy: Instead of choosing a path of escape, Wells had gone back to help a friend climb a fence in eluding the shooter.

“In the effort to try and help one of his friends, he lost his own life,” Holman told the crowd.

Nolan Opp, a friend of Wells since the sixth grade, told the Journal-Constitution, “From the moment I met him, he had a demeanor about him. He was a great guy. I was his [JROTC] platoon commander for two years. He always wanted to learn. He wanted to be the best he could be at anything he did.”

Opp, now an Army private first class, added, “He always put others before himself. There would be times when I was just not myself or I’d be down about something. He would go out of his way to make sure I was OK. Everybody looked up to him.”

An unnamed policeman who is a member of Bayside Baptist Church in Chattanooga was one of three people who were wounded by the shooter, Mohammad Youssef Abdulazeez, who was killed after ending the lives of the four servicemen.