Marine Cpl. Stephen Bixler, a 2003 graduate of Suffield High School, was killed May 4, 2006 while on foot patrol near Fallujah in Iraq. He was 20.
Marine Cpl. Stephen Bixler felt bad when he was sent to Fallujah for his second tour of duty in Iraq.
He thought it was too safe compared with the even more dangerous Ramadi, said Allen Hoffacker, a Suffield High School teacher whose children are friends with Bixler.
Bixler, 20, was killed Thursday while on foot patrol near Fallujah. On Thursday, word of his death spread throughout this town of about 14,000 and residents began to mourn their loss.
Bixler leaves behind his parents, Richard and Linda; a twin sister, Sandra; and dozens of people who knew him as intelligent and athletic, and as a quiet but strong leader, whether it was in the Boy Scouts or on the high school cross-country team.
"The town of Suffield - and I'm sure I speak for all on the board of selectmen - is extremely sorry to hear this," said Selectman Douglas H. Viets. "Our prayers go out for him and his family, and we appreciate the service he has given the country."
Gov. M. Jodi Rell ordered both the U.S. and Connecticut flags to be flown at half-staff until sundown on the day of Bixler's interment, which has not yet been scheduled. "The thoughts and prayers of all Connecticut residents are with the Bixler family today," Rell said in a statement.
Thomas Jones, principal of Suffield High School, said he learned about Bixler's death from a teacher Thursday morning. He said he announced it to students and asked for a moment of silence.
Bixler, who graduated in 2003, was not like other high school students, he said.
"Stephen was kind of a quiet leader among his peers," he said. "There was a strength of character about him, and a self-assurance that was unusual for someone his age. He just had focus," he said. "He knew he wanted to be a Marine. He was proud to serve in Iraq. He was just a solid person all around."
Bixler had served a tour in Haiti with the Marines before he was assigned to Iraq. He had recently visited the school to talk to students about his experiences in Iraq, Jones said. But there was a lot he didn't say.
"You could tell that there was a lot more that he had experienced that he wasn't sharing," Jones said.
A former senior patrol leader in local Boy Scout Troop 260, Bixler worked hard to become an Eagle Scout. He created a concrete fire pit at the Jesse F. Smith Memorial Forest, a map of the park and signs to guide visitors there, said Larry Quinn, scoutmaster of Troop 260. His parents are still active in the troop, he said.
"He was an excellent scout. He was the kind of boy that got along with everyone," Quinn said. "He was a mentor to all the boys. This is a big loss."
Quinn said the troop had just held an Eagle ceremony Tuesday night, and Richard Bixler was there.
Quinn had asked, "How is our boy doing overseas?" he said. Richard Bixler said he was doing all right.
Neighbor Frank Kulina had noticed that a lot of cars were parked in front of the Bixler home Thursday. Then he read about Bixler's death in the newspaper. He went over to the Bixlers' house to offer his support.
"I can't believe it," he said.
Hoffacker, who teachers English, said Bixler was "a very shy, soft-spoken, modest, very dedicated young man. Very patriotic, in a quiet, determined way."
The Bixler residence shows the family's pride. Two "mother's flags," with their telltale stars, hang by a window. A Marine flag hangs by the door. Yellow ribbons are tied to the seven trees on the front lawn.
A person who answered the door of the home said the family did not wish to comment.
Hoffacker said he made plans with Bixler during his recent return home.
"I said that when he came back, we would go fishing for bluefish in the Sound," Hoffacker said.
An Associated Press report is included in this story.Copyright © 2015, CT Now