A Woodbridge mother and her two children are mourning the loss of a husband and father, Staff Sgt. Kristopher Linwood Shepherd, 26.
Shepherd was the only soldier killed during a hostile incident on Friday in Baghdad, Iraq, when an improvised explosive device detonated and fatally wounded him, according to the Department of Defense.
Shepherd, an explosive ordnance detonation (EOD) specialist, is the father of a 6-year-old girl and a 3-year-old boy.
His wife, Ruby and he met in grade school and grew up in Lynchburg. For the past four years, Ruby Shepherd and their children lived in Woodbridge.
Kimberly Wrenn, Shepherd’s sister-in-law, said the children were having a hard time coping with their father’s death.
“It’s hard with them because they’re so young,” said Wrenn. “The first thing they do when they’re upset is they want their daddy.”
She said she’s known Shepherd’s parents since before he was born. He was more like a little brother to her than a brother by marriage, she said.
“He was a wonderful person,” she said. “He loved his family, he lived for his kids and his wife. That’s basically why he joined the military. He wanted them to have a good life.”
Shepherd had spent April to December 2003 with his unit in Afghanistan, where his face and hands were burned in an explosion, before the unit shipped out to Iraq in the second week of January, his mother said.
Shepherd had talked to his mother on the phone from Iraq last week, he was joking as usual, looking forward to coming home and going fishing.
At his mother’s Lynchburg home Sunday, Shepherd’s daughter, Cheyenne, roamed around the front yard.
Inside the home of his mother, Sheila Campbell, and his stepfather, Danny Campbell, who helped raise Shepherd since he was 2, his mother examined two photos of her son.
One showed him in his Army uniform, looking at the camera with a straight face.
The other showed him smiling with his wife and children. It is that second photo, she said, that is more characteristic of her son.
“He was a practical joker,” she said. “If he could pull a practical joke on you, he would.” Shepherd’s mischievous streak was evident in his childhood, his mother said. He was an only child and enjoyed skateboarding and riding his bike.
“One year when he was little he got a hatchet for Christmas and cut some trees,” she said. “They were in the road so we had to take chainsaws to get them out of the way. He said, ‘I was just playing.’ “
Shepherd was a straight-A student who began taking Latin classes in the eighth grade, his mother said.
“He took four years of Latin,” she said. “He started taking it because he said it was easy. I think he also had a crush on the teacher.”
He was 17 when he decided to join the military, she said.
“He and his girlfriend, who’s now his wife, were looking at what would be the best possible future for them,” Campbell said. “He married his childhood sweetheart and they have two wonderful kids. He was very family-oriented.”
After joining the Army, Shepherd started out as a mechanic before deciding he wanted to work as an EOD specialist. He was based at Fort McNair in Washington, D.C., and assigned to 767th Ordnance Company, 63rd Ordnance Battalion, 52nd Ordnance Group.
Charles Barley, a former Rustburg resident who is retired from the Army and lives in Camden, N.C., had known Shepherd since 2000 and said he was well liked and had a good work ethic.
“He worked for me before I retired from the Army and EOD,” Barley said. “He was an exceptional soldier with a positive ‘can do’ attitude. I took a liking to the kid immediately. I wish I had a dozen like him.”
Before going to Iraq, Shepherd had been defusing explosive devices in Afghanistan.
“The unit just returned from a tour in Afghanistan just over a year ago where he rendered safe numerous devices and unexploded military ordnance left over from the Russian invasion of Afghanistan,” Barley said.
Although Barley said Shepherd was liked among his peers, his mother said he was teased once because of his red hair.
“He called me up one time and said, ‘Who’s Howdy Doody?’ ” she said, referring a character from a popular 1950s children’s show. “I told him, ‘You know, the puppet.’ Someone had told him they weren’t taking orders from Howdy Doody.”
Barley said that, although Shepherd had job opportunities, he decided to stay on as an EOD, where the soldiers are a tight-knit group. He plans to attend the customary ceremony held for soldiers when their bodies are brought to Dover Air Force Base in Delaware.
“It’s a small field; everybody knows everybody else,” he said. “A bunch of us will probably go up and pay our respects upon his arrival at Dover.”
Campbell said the family plans a memorial service at Tree of Life on Saturday and are working on funeral plans.
At Campbell’s home Sunday, family members were surrounded with memories of Shepherd.
“He was always puttering around with cars,” Campbell said. “We have a ’68 Camaro here in the yard. He was gonna build it for his son.”
Shepherd’s wife, Ruby, is doing “remarkably well,” Campbell said, and the family is helping the couple’s children come to terms with his death.
“We just told their 6-year-old today, but I don’t think she really understands,” Campbell said. “Their 3-year-old doesn’t understand. All he knows is that Daddy’s gone.”