Friends say Steven Hancock was doing what he loved when he died.
The Marine, who would have turned 21 years old this week, reportedly fell from an Osprey aircraft during a training mission in Bladen County Monday. His body was found Tuesday in a wooded area off Highway 701 and Carter Blueberry Road near White Lake.
"Being an eagle scout, he just felt really patriotic in that he wanted to really serve his country," Bobby Chapman, Hancock's former Sunday school teacher, said. "He really wanted to fly, and he thought that the Marines would give him the best option.
The New River Air Station Marine was originally from Coal City, Illinois, and confided in his youth group leader, Bobby Chapman at First Christian Church.
"When Steven was making the decision to go into the military…he had a lot of questions," Chapman said. "He wanted to know what it was like, and we talked about what his goals were and what he wanted to do."
Chapman was in the Navy for six years and said he helped Steven make the decision to join the Marines. But it was what happened during a training exercise this week that has left Chapman in shock.
"I was really devastated," Chapman said. "He is such a great kid. He had just made Captain...I knew he was coming home to spend time with his family and also to celebrate his sister's graduation."
It was the hours of waiting to hear what had happened to Hancock that took a toll on the Grundy County community, especially Hancock's family, according to Chapman.
"Trying to find answers, you know, no one had any answers…The waiting was really killing them," Chapman said.
Many questions still surround Hancock's death.
"We have a lot of families that go into the military," Chapman said. "It's just something we know is out there, but it's not something you think about, losing a son or daughter or neighbor or friend in the military…especially a training exercise."
Many wonder if Hancock was wearing a harness during the training operation, something that is considered a standard operating procedure, according to the USMC. The investigation into the incident continues, and Hancock's family cannot make funeral arrangements until the Marines release the body.
Until then, Chapman remembers the best parts of the time he spent with Hancock.
"Steven was an awesome kid. He could make anyone laugh," Chapman said. "He was fun to be around, which is what people always say, but he was a very contagious personality."
Chapman has spoken to Hancock's family, helping Steven's sister, Mallory, through the pain of losing a brother.
"She's heartbroken…but she knows Steven's in a better place, but it doesn't make it any easier to deal with," Chapman said.
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