Lance Cpl. Squire Wells, who was known as Skip, was swapping text messages Thursday with his girlfriend of 2 years, excited that she had booked a flight to visit him in Chattanooga after months apart.
"Can't wait anymore," Wells texted. "Yes you can honey," his girlfriend, Caroline Dove, replied.
His next two words would be the last she'd ever hear from him.
"ACTIVE SHOOTER," he wrote.
She thought he was kidding: "You are so weird," she replied.
Hours of silence. "I love you," she tried. Hours more passed, the news out of Chattanooga becoming clearer. "Hon, I need you to answer me please," she wrote.
It would not be until Friday that she learned his fate.
The two met at Georgia Southern University, but he soon followed in his family footsteps and enlisted. His grandfather had been in the Air Force, and his grandmother and mother served in the Navy, Dove said. Dove, too, plans to enlist in the Marines, a process she began in November. She said she is not dissuaded by what happened.
Through tears, Dove remembered her boyfriend's love of flag football and Nerf guns, his passion for U.S. history, his ability to handle her when she was grouchy and how good he was at listening. He dreamed of being a drill sergeant, and when they last saw each other around Valentine's Day, he gave her a gold-and-silver ring. When the time came to propose, she said, he knew to ask her parents first.
Wells' mother was watching television coverage of the shooting when Marines appeared at her door. She knew what the visit meant.
"Every service parent, especially moms, dreads opening the front door and seeing people in uniform," said Andy Kingery, a friend who is acting as a family spokesman.