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Utah private, five other victims of massacre laid to rest

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Funeral for Fort Hood victim
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Pfc. Aaron Thomas Nemelka was buried Saturday in snowy West Jordan, Utah
  • Nemelka was one of six Fort Hood massacre victims laid to rest on Saturday
  • The 19-year-old combat engineer was set for deployment in Afghanistan
  • Maj. Nidal Malik Hasan has been charged in the slayings at the Army base in Texas

(CNN) -- Bagpipers sounded "Amazing Grace" on a snowy day at a Utah cemetery as military pallbearers marched to rest the casket of Pfc. Aaron Thomas Nemelka, one of 13 people gunned down last week in Ford Hood, Texas.

A throng of mourners arrived for the funeral service at a Mormon church in West Jordan, and then solemnly witnessed the burial of the 19-year-old combat engineer set for deployment in Afghanistan.

One of six of the Fort Hood victims laid to rest across the country on Saturday, Nemelka was buried at the Utah Veterans Memorial Park, south of Bluffdale.

American flags flapped in the freezing wind and a soldier played "Taps" amid a graveside huddle of military comrades, veterans, family members and Patriot Guard Riders, the motorcycle group that honors slain troops.

"This one is a little bit hard to understand," said Utah Gov. Gary Herbert, who spoke to reporters after the church service.

He said Nemelka's death is particularly hard to accept because of the circumstances.

Authorities say Maj. Nidal Malik Hasan, a U.S. Army psychiatrist, opened fire at a military processing center at Fort Hood on November 5, killing 13 people. Hasan, who was seriously wounded in the incident, was charged with 13 counts of premeditated murder -- charges that make him eligible for the death penalty.

Nemelka graduated from high school in 2008 and enlisted the same year, and then was ready to deploy to Afghanistan in January.

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The youngest of four children, Nemelka loved his work as a combat engineer and was being trained to defuse bombs, according to a report in Salt Lake City's Deseret News posted on the Nemelka family Web page. He had been assigned to the 510th Engineer Company, 20th Engineer Battalion in Fort Hood.

Aaron's uncle, Maj. Kevin Nemelka, read a statement on behalf of his nephew's parents to reporters Saturday.

They thanked people who sent cards, flowers and provided food for them and expressed gratitude to their son's military comrades.

"During this moment, when grief and sorrow threaten to overwhelm us, we look to our faith, to our family and to our friends for comfort," the statement said.

The statement also said the family drew strength from people who lost loved ones and passed along condolences to the relatives of the other victims.

In their statement, they made a point to say they were honored to meet President Obama and first lady Michelle Obama at the Tuesday memorial at Fort Hood. The couple was comforted by the couple's "heartfelt and sincere expressions of sorrow, support and love."

"Since that visit, it has been our fervent prayer the president would receive the best advice" and the "inspiration of heaven as he struggles with the problems of our nation, most especially as he wrestles with the difficult decisions on the future of the long and terrible war in Afghanistan and Iraq," the statement said.

The five other victims for whom funerals were Saturday were:

Pfc. Michael Pearson

Pearson, 22, of Bolingbrook, Illinois, enlisted in the Army more than a year ago to realize his musical dream. He hoped the military would be his path to college, where he could study musical theory, his brother Kristopher Craig said.

Pearson was scheduled to deploy to either Iraq or Afghanistan in January, his brother said. He was learning to deactivate bombs and training in the Mojave Desert, said his mother, Sheryll Pearson. She was looking forward to seeing her son at Christmas.

He was assigned to the 510th Engineer Company, 20th Engineer Battalion in Fort Hood.

Spc. Jason Dean Hunt

The 22-year-old from Tillman, Oklahoma, enlisted in the Army in 2006 and spent his 21st birthday in Iraq, his sister, Leila Willingham, said. He chose to re-enlist, dedicating the next six years to the military.

Hunt was recently married and set for his second deployment to Iraq, his sister told CNN's "Larry King Live." He graduated high school in 2005 and tested his hand at a career in information technology, Willingham said.

He was assigned to the 1st Brigade, 1st Cavalry Division in Ford Hood.

Sgt. Amy Krueger

Krueger, 29, of Kiel, Wisconsin, was a high school athlete who joined the military after the September 11 attacks, Kiel High School Principal Dario Talerico told the Milwaukee-Wisconsin Journal Sentinel.

Krueger played for the high school basketball and softball teams and graduated in 1998, Talerico said. A high school friend who later shared an apartment with Krueger had fond memories of the sergeant.

She was assigned to the 467th Medical Company, Madison, Wisconsin.

Capt. John Gaffaney

Gaffaney, 54, of San Diego, California, was an Army reservist and been a psychiatric nurse by training. He worked for two decades in San Diego County, California, where he helped elderly victims of abuse and neglect.

Ellen Schmeding, assistant deputy director of the county's Aging and Independence Services Department, told CNN affiliate KFMB that Gaffaney most recently served as a supervisor for the county's Adult Protective Services Department.

Gaffaney was assigned to the 1908th Medical Company, Independence, Missouri.

Staff Sgt. Justin DeCrow

DeCrow, 32, of Plymouth, Indiana, went to Fort Hood in September to prepare for his deployment to Iraq, which was scheduled for sometime between December and March.

Daniel DeCrow, Justin DeCrow's father, told CNN affiliate WSBT in South Bend, Indiana, that his son joined the Army after finishing high school in Plymouth.

DeCrow was assigned to the 16th Signal Company, 62nd Signal Battalion, 11th Signal Brigade, Fort Hood.

 
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