In 1997, 18-year-old Jeremy Bryson marched into the military recruitment office on Lee Highway in Chattanooga, eager to serve his country.
On Thursday night the Army veteran was back at the very same office, to mourn.
“It’s just hard. It’s hard to see,” he said, his eyes glistening. He rattled off his emotions in quick staccato syllables, like a rifle’s report. “Sadness. Disgust. Scared.”
A gunman identified by authorities as Kuwait-born Muhammad Youssef Abdulazeez, 24, fired at this and another U.S. military site a few miles apart in Chattanooga on Thursday, killing at least four Marines. The attacker also was killed.
Authorities are investigating the possibility of terrorism.
Bryson did not know any of the slain service personnel but grieved their loss personally.
“Anyone in uniform is your family,” he said. He was one of a group of people who gathered to post signs and mementos outside the yellow-taped perimeter. Bryson hurried to right a flag that had slipped from a fence post. “I just don’t want it to touch the ground.”
Out by the highway, U.S. Coast Guard Auxiliary member Matt Branum was among a colorguard that assembled itself by the roadway. Drivers slowed and honked.
“I’ve been out here since about 5:30,” Branum said as the sun set. “I just wanted to come up here and hold the flag and show people we’re not going to let this hold us down.”
News of the shooting, he said, “felt like 9-11 all over again.”
Ashley Brown is about to join the ranks of America’s military. The soon-to-be Army member brought her twin daughters Macie and Bella, both 4, to the recruiting site. She explained the visit gingerly.
“I told them there were four people who went up to the sky and they helped keep everyone safe,” she said. “They wanted to bring presents.”
As her girls added their star-spangled tributes to the display of patriotic items, Brown said the shooting hadn’t quelled her desire to serve.
“It makes me want to get out there even more,” she said.
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