(Taken from www.dailyherald.com) Pfc. Michael Pearson joined the Army a little more than a year ago because he wanted to serve his country, travel and get an education.
"He just wanted to do something with his life," said his mother, Sheryll Pearson. "He didn't think he could do that just staying here."
On Friday, the Bolingbrook woman said she was shocked to learn her 21-year-old son was one of the 13 people killed in Thursday's shootings at Fort Hood in Texas.
"It still doesn't seem real to me," said Sheryll Pearson, surrounded by family and friends during an impromptu news conference outside her townhouse. Behind them, red, white and blue bunting hung from the home's wooden porch.
Sheryll Pearson said her son was planning to spend Christmas with his family before his first deployment overseas, which was expected in January.
"I'm still wondering what happened," she said.
Pearson, who was receiving training at Fort Hood on how to deactivate bombs, was aware of the dangers he could face overseas.
"We talked about it," Sheryll Pearson said. "But he pretty much knew what he wanted to do and I stood behind him."
Family members said Pearson was proud of what he was doing.
"He said sometimes it was hard," Sheryll Pearson said. "But for the most part, he wanted to do what he was doing."
Neighbor Jessica Koerber said she grew up with Pearson in Bolingbrook. She described him as "an amazing kid."
"He loved his family, he loved his guitar, he had the best friends in the whole world," she said. "His family loved him and he loved spending time with his nieces and nephews."
Family members said Pearson's passion for rock music was so great that he became "a virtuoso" on the guitar. He even taught himself to play piano and was a prolific songwriter.
"Jimi Hendrix was his idol, and he looked a little like him when he played," said Mike Dostalek, Pearson's cousin.
"Mikey was one of a kind. You couldn't ask for a better son, brother, neighbor or friend," Koerber said. "He was content being who he was, and who he was, was Mikey. You can't really describe him. The family lost their gem."
Having her friend killed on American soil "makes it worse because it was just a wrong place, wrong time type of thing," Koerber said.
Dostalek said the shooting was a "senseless" act that happened because of "fear and cowardice." He said the shooter "succumbed to his fear."
"He was a coward," Dostalek said. "And he did not act ... with honor. He did a disgrace to our country."
Pearson's family members say the shooter took the life of a good student and good friend who was loyal and hardworking.
Sheryll Pearson said her son was "a good boy."
"He was my best friend, and I miss him," Sheryll Pearson said.
Pearson graduated from Bolingbrook High School in 2006. On Friday morning, a representative from the school district visited Pearson's parents to offer condolences.
Bolingbrook High Principal James Mitchem was Pearson's middle school principal, but he did not know him personally. Mitchem became high school principal after Pearson graduated.
"Obviously, the young man was a student in our district and the family is in pain," Mitchem said. "As any community would do, we're reaching out to the family as a means of showing our support. He seemed to be a fine, upstanding man who met a tragic end as a result of an unfortunate incident."
Mitchem said Pearson was "a very good student, an A/B student who carried above a 3.0 average in both middle school and high school. There was no disciplinary history at either school. He was a kid who blended into the crowd and did well in school."
"He was in the ROTC program early," Mitchem said, "but did not remain in the program throughout high school."
The news of the shootings hit close to home for many military families in the area, including Patricia and Terry Bell of Aurora, whose son, Pfc. Samuel Keith Bell, is stationed at Fort Hood but was unharmed in the incident.
"We were scared as soon as we heard the newscast," Terry Bell said Friday. "When it first came on, it sounded like people were running around the base shooting people."
Because of the heavy phone traffic in the wake of the attack, it took the Bells a little more than an hour to reach their son. When they did, his cell phone kept cutting in and out - but Terry Bell says that was OK.
"Just hearing his voice was a calming effect," he said. "We knew he was safe at that point."
"He was very calm," Terry Bell said. "More calm than we were."
Terry Bell said his son, a combat engineer, had just finished a training session and was on the parade field when an announcement came for soldiers to report to their emergency posts.
His son's battalion wound up locked in their barracks for seven to eight hours.
Samuel Bell is scheduled for deployment in 2011 and part of his duties will be to search for land mines, his father said.
No one in the family ever dreamed he would be in danger long before that.
"We figured Fort Hood was the safest place for him - it's strictly for training," his father said.
Terry Bell said he and his wife have mixed emotions about Samuel serving in the military.
"You're super proud of your son," he said, "and at the same time you're scared to death."
A soldier's last song
Fighting back tears on Friday, Mike Dostalek, Michael Pearson's cousin, read lyrics taken from the last song the slain Bolingbrook soldier wrote:
"I look only to the future for wisdom. To rock back and forth in my wooden chair. To grow out the beard of the Earth and play my experience through sound. Not always pleasant. But just as important. For each note must represent my love, pain and experience. Everyone has a place in my story. And someday I'll play a tune that represents you and the role you played in my life."