Investigators are still trying to figure out why a mortar shell exploded during training Monday night in Nevada killing several Marines based at Camp Lejeune here in North Carolina.
Mason Vanderwork, of Hickory, was killed during a training exercise involving members of the 2nd Marine Expeditionary Force from Camp Lejeune.
Vanderwork attended Saint Stephen's High School in Hickory.
Surrounded by family and friends in a small Hickory apartment, Melissa Vanderwork mourned for her son Wednesday night.
"I loved him more than anything in this world," she cried.
Vanderwork was just 21 when he and six other Marines, all from Camp Lejeune, were killed during a live-fire training exercise on Monday in Nevada.
They all died when a 60 .mm mortar round exploded.
"I don't know how to cope. Taking it minute by minute and day by day," said his mother.
She said she never even knew her son was in Nevada because it was supposed to be a secret.
"Not allowed to call or talk to anybody while he was training so I hadn't heard from him since the beginning of February," she said.
Vanderwork's 11-year-old sister, Katelyn, asked, "Why did it have to be him."
The young girl leaned on her mother as her eyes filled with tears.
"I only knew him 11 years. I wish I could have known him more," she said.
Family friends, like Jimmiann Huffman and her daughter Rhiely, said Vanderwork was not only a neighbor but also like a member of their family.
"He would help my husband split wood. He was just a really good kid," Jimmiann said.
Her daughter added, "I can't even describe it because it's just painful to know that somebody that close to me isn't here anymore."
Melissa Vanderwork had Mason as a teenager and raised him on her own. Other family members have been Marines and she said Mason, even in his junior year of high school, couldn't wait to enlist.
He was so eager to join the Marines that after graduating on a Friday, he was on a bus to Paris Island on Sunday. He had already served two tours of duty overseas, including a deployment to Afghanistan.
Said his mother, "I was proud of my son. He did this for me to make me proud."
Funeral services will be finalized later this week. There is expected to be a service at Camp Lejeune for all seven Marines that died.
After that there will be a service back home in Hickory for family and friends.
The fatal incident occurred during a training exercise shortly before 10 p.m. on Monday.
The injured were transported to Renown Regional Medical Center in Reno, Nevada for treatment and further evaluation.
Brigadier Gen. Jim Lukeman, 2nd Marine Division Commanding General conducted a press conference on March 19 and shared his comments on the incident with attending media.
“We send our prayers and condolences to the families of the Marines and sailors who have been killed and injured in this tragic accident,” Lukeman said. “Our first priority is to provide them with the support they need during this very difficult time, and we’re doing that right now.”
It is still unclear at this time as to what caused the incident.
“We don’t know yet what caused this malfunction,” Lukeman explained. “A team of investigators has begun the investigation, to figure out just what happened.”
Currently, there is an employment suspension of the 60mm mortar system across the Marine Corps.
All units using the system have been directed to immediately discontinue using the mortar system until further notice.
Profiles on the fallen Marines
AARON RIPPERDA, 26
Ripperda was a football player while he attended high school in Highland, Ill., near St. Louis. He was respectful and hardworking, according to Highland High School Assistant Principal Karen Gauen, and "definitely had the discipline for the military."
Ripperda had dreams of becoming a professional chef. His aunt, Beverly Lesicko, told the St. Louis Post-Dispatch he joined the Marines for a chance to explore the world. He was scheduled to come home in May.
JOSH TAYLOR, 21
Marine Lance Cpl. Taylor, who worked with mortars and served tours in Afghanistan and Kuwait, had dreamed being in the Corps since watching the History Channel as a boy. He joined right after graduating from a high school in Marietta, Ohio, in 2010.
Taylor's grandfather, Larry Stephens, said Taylor was engaged to be married, with a wedding planned for May.
His fiancee's father called him an exceptional person.
"You don't meet many young men like him today," Keith Malone told The Marietta Times. "He was respectful to everyone, very humble, just happy, happy all the time."
Taylor is also survived by three sisters and a brother.
ROGER MUCHNICK, 23
Muchnick, who'd been in the Marines for about three years, had served in Afghanistan and was considering returning to college after his enlistment was up. He played high school lacrosse and football in Westport, Conn., and later played lacrosse at Eastern Connecticut State University, where he studied business.
In a biography on the university's website, Muchnick said the one thing he would like to do before he died was "live," and his most embarrassing moment was getting caught lip-synching in a school talent show.
"He was at the top of his game when this happened," said his grandfather, Jerome Muchnick. "You can't imagine losing a very handsome, 23-year-old grandson who was vital and loving."
JOSH MARTINO, 19
Pfc. Martino, who hailed from Dubois, Pa., and was preparing for a deployment to Afghanistan, aspired to be a Marine since boyhood.
"Since he was probably 8 years old he wanted to be a Marine," said his mother, Karen Perry. "That's all he wanted to do."
Martino was a talkative former high school athlete and accomplished hunter who hoped to marry his fiancee later this year, Perry said.
His mother said she first heard a radio news report about the Monday accident, then three Marines arrived at her workplace to say her son was among the seven dead.
DAVID FENN, 20
Lance Cpl. David P. Fenn II, 20, of Polk City, Fla., was a mortarman assigned to 1st Battalion, 9th Marine Regiment. He joined the Marine Corps in June 2010 and was promoted to his current rank in March 2011. Fenn's awards include the Combat Action Ribbon, National Defense Service Medal, Afghanistan Campaign Medal, Global War on Terrorism Expeditionary Medal, Global War on Terrorism Service Medal, Sea Service Deployment Ribbon, and NATO Medal-ISAF Afghanistan. He was most recently deployed in support of Operation ENDURING FREEDOM in 2011.
WILLIAM WILD, 21
Lance Cpl. William T. Wild IV, 21, of Anne Arundel, Md., was a mortarman assigned to 1st Battalion, 9th Marine Regiment. He joined the Marine Corps in October 2010 and was promoted to his current rank in December 2011. Wild's awards include the Combat Action Ribbon, National Defense Service Medal, Afghanistan Campaign Medal, Global War on Terrorism Expeditionary Medal, Global War on Terrorism Service Medal, Sea Service Deployment Ribbon, and NATO Medal-ISAF Afghanistan. He was most recently deployed in support of Operation ENDURING FREEDOM in 2011.