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Father: Chesterton cadet killed at Fort Hood 'touched so many people's lives'

Post-Tribune

Mitchell Alexander Winey decided in eighth grade he wanted to be a West Point cadet.

"Mitch came home one day and told us he was going to West Point, so we just bought him a book on how to prepare to apply to the school — and he did the rest," said his father, Tim Winey.

Mitchell Winey, a 2014 Chesterton High School graduate, was among nine soldiers killed Thursday at Fort Hood when floodwaters washed a transport truck from a low-water crossing. A letter from West Point Superintendent Lt. Gen. Robert L. Caslen, published on a website for West Point graduates, said Winey was participating in Cadet Troop Leader Training when the accident occurred.

Friends, acquaintances and even strangers have poured into the Winey's Chesterton residence since his death.

"All of a sudden, we're hearing these stories about all of the ways Mitch touched so many people's lives," said Tim Winey, a soft-spoken insurance salesman. "And, it just shows you this kid you raised had so much more to him than maybe we even realized."

Indiana Gov. Mike Pence offered condolences to the Winey family and ordered all flags at state facilities be lowered to half-staff until his funeral. U.S. Sen. Joe Donnelly, D-Ind., who helping get Mitchell Winey into the famed military academy, also sent his condolences. Tim Winey said the family is awaiting funeral arrangements from the U.S. Army.

Mitchell Winey's friends have continued to stop by the family residence to pay their respects, offer their support to the family and share stories. Tim Winey said former classmates and others stopped by "to tell us how Mitch really just showed them how to live, how to enjoy life."

He was class president, prom king in 2014, an athlete and much more, his father said.

Tim Winey said one time his son returned home on leave and immediately visited a child he used to tutor with a mental health issue.

"But that's the kind of kid he was," Tim Winey said. "He could have all kinds of people to visit and catch up with, but the first thing he wanted to do was visit with that young boy he used to help."

Photos of Mitchell Winey skiing or playing sports filled his Facebook page, as did dozens of remembrances by hundreds of friends. The site also includes a short video of him playing piano, singing and hamming it up for other cadets.

Sam Iatarola, 21, of Porter, became friends with Mitchell Winey when they were in elementary school together. They backpacked, skied and shared adventures for years, Iatarola said.

"(Mitchell's) biggest impact on me was always inspiring me to step out of my comfort zone and do things I'd never done before," he said. "Mitchell always had a smile ear-to-ear, and, whenever you were around him, everyone else followed and had the same smile, his was so contagious."

Tim Winey added: "(Mitch) was a laid back guy, but, whatever he did, he went all out with it."

Word of the fatal accident left neighbors stunned and mostly silent. The Westchester Township neighborhood is one where children inherit family homes and start the cycle of community all over again, said Caroline Kowaluk, 85, who has lived across from the Winey family home for 51 years.

The houses on Dogwood Street are neatly kept, with well trimmed lawns and children riding bicycles to each other's houses.

Kowaluk watched Tim Winey grow up in the house and marry Margo Groff, who grew up a block over. Then, she watched Mitchell and Paige Winey, the Winey's two children, grow up and move on.

"I've known Mitch since he was born, and he was just such a smart boy," Kowaluk said. "He was a nice kid, but that's a very nice family. Mitch knew what he wanted to do.

"He wanted to be a soldier."

After the Thursday morning accident, firefighters pulled three survivors from the rushing waters of the usually dry Owl Creek.

The bodies of five soldiers from the Central Texas post were recovered Thursday, and four were found Friday. The three surviving soldiers were discharged Friday from Fort Hood's hospital and returned to duty.

On Saturday night, Fort Hood officials released the names of eight of the nine soldiers who died. They identified them as Cadet Winey, Staff Sgt. Miguel Angel Colonvazquez, 38, of Brooklyn, New York; Spc. Christine Faith Armstrong, 27, of Twentynine Palms, California; Pfc. Brandon Austin Banner, 22, of Milton, Florida; Pfc. Zachery Nathaniel Fuller, 23, of Palmetto, Florida; Pvt. Isaac Lee Deleon, 19, of San Angelo, Texas; Pvt. Eddy Raelaurin Gates, 20, of Dunn, North Carolina; and Pvt. Tysheena Lynette James, 21, of Jersey City, New Jersey. Officials with the post say the name of the ninth soldier who died won't be released until family can be notified.

Caslen's letter stated: "Throughout his time here at the U.S. Military Academy, Cadet Winey was enormously proud to be a cadet. Mitchell was an exemplary cadet in academics, as an Engineering Management major, during company athletics, and as a member of the Ski Patrol. He was clearly a rising leader in his class and a friend to everyone who knew him. He internalized the ideals and values of West Point and exemplified them in all that he set out to do. Duty, Honor, Country were his touchstones."

Michael Gonzalez is a freelance reporter for the Post-Tribune. Chicago Tribune staff, wires and the Associated Press contributed to this story.

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