RUSSELLVILLE, Ark. -- The hot air hung heavy — and so, too, did the mood -- inside the Russellville High School stadium Friday night as family, friends and community members gathered to remember Staff Sgt. David Wyatt, a U.S. Marine killed in the July 16 attacks at military facilities in Tennessee.
As dusk approached about 8 p.m., hundreds took their seats in the stadium's bleachers and listened to testimonies from a few of Wyatt's high school classmates, his Boy Scout Master, junior high track coach and eighth-grade history teacher.
At the end of the ceremony, the stadium's lights went dark, and flames from hundreds of candles illuminated the faces of those holding them. A small choir, accompanied by the strumming of an acoustic guitar, softly sang Amazing Grace.
"Tonight we come together because of a tragedy that hit our nation," said U.S. Army Chaplain Capt. Carter Pearce, one of Wyatt's high school classmates. "David touched many lives. Even though some here tonight never met him face-to-face, he impacted their lives. His death brought a community together."
Wyatt, 35, was born in Morganton, N.C., but grew up in Ozark and Russellville. He attended Russellville High School and graduated in 1998. In school, he was on the football team, earned the rank of Eagle Scout and played tuba in the band.
After the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, Wyatt joined the U.S. Marine Corps and served in Iraq and Afghanistan. His service spanned 11 years and included assignments all over the world. He most recently resided in Hixon, Tenn., with his wife, Lorri, and their two young children, Heith and Rebecca.
On July 16, Wyatt and four other service members were killed after a lone shooter unleashed a barrage of gunfire at a military recruiting center and a Navy and Marine Reserve center in Chattanooga, Tenn.
Others killed in the shooting were Navy Petty Officer 2nd Class Randall Scott Smith and three other Marines: Sgt. Carson A. Holmquist, Lance Cpl. Squire K. 'Skip' Wells and Gunnery Sgt. Thomas J. Sullivan.
The attack, which is being investigated as an act of terrorism, prompted discussion nationwide about security measures at U.S. military installations, where law enforcement or military police are generally the only people armed.
Gov. Asa Hutchinson and governors of several other states responded by arming their National Guard troops. Hutchinson also ordered the Arkansas National Guard to temporarily empty its nine storefront recruiting centers.
U.S. Defense Department Secretary Ashton Carter issued a memorandum asking military service chiefs to develop security plans that include the option of armed active-duty personnel. He said department policy does allow some service members to be armed while working at recruiting centers and ROTC offices.
A military official announced a week after the shooting that some Marines had run to safety during the attack but then went back into the fight. Wyatt's family has said — and friends said Friday — that he was one of the service members who returned to help others.
To classmate Justin Keller, that action epitomized who Wyatt was.
"He raised up those around them," Keller remembered. "David was always there to lend a helping hand. When life got you down, David was there to lift you up. He did everything to his full potential. He always gave his best, and he always challenged others to rise to their best, as well.
"Go full speed, smile while you do it — that's the David Wyatt way."
Before the ceremony began Friday, a group of local and state officials and Wyatt's classmates met dozens of Wyatt's family members at the stadium entrance. Heith gripped Lorri Wyatt's right hand, and Rebecca held the other.
Jessica Freeman, a classmate who helped arrange the remembrance, presented Lorri Wyatt with a plaque that read, "We didn't know we were making memories. We were just having fun." Freeman gave Heith and Rebecca each a dogtag "making them honorary Cyclones," she said.
Freeman said she and other classmates arranged the ceremony so the community could grieve together. Wyatt was laid to rest July 24 at Chattanooga National Cemetery.
"After almost 20 years, this is still home to us," Freeman said, looking out over the stadium. "It holds so many memories."
Wyatt's family members sat in the front row throughout the hourlong ceremony. Afterward, they received hugs and condolences. They declined to talk with members of the media.
Heith Wyatt played with the dog-tag's chain and held the tag in his hand for most of the ceremony. He continued gripping it at one point while reciting the Boy Scout Oath, along with other scouts in the crowd.
Leslie Teaff, one of David Wyatt's Scout Masters, said he and Wyatt began their relationship as Scout Master and scout, but "ended it as friends."
After the ceremony, Teaff held onto Chris Ward, who became an Eagle Scout alongside Wyatt, and they both cried.
"God, we had such good times," Teaff said. "We had such good times. He was such a good friend."
Ken Griffin, Hutchinson's military liaison, announced at the ceremony that Hutchinson proclaimed Friday as "Staff Sgt. David Wyatt Day."
"Today, words like 'courage' and 'hero' are thrown around haphazardly, in my opinion," Griffin said. "But I can say with authority that Staff Sgt. David Wyatt is absolutely a true American hero."