Youngest shooting victim honored

April 1, 2009 8:10:58 PM PDT
A grieving community says goodbye to one of the people gunned down during the nursing home rampage.Eight people lost their lives during the shooting spree. On Wednesday, family, friends and strangers paid their respects to the youngest victim, Jerry Avant Junior.

The 39-year-old nurse was on duty at Pinelake Health and Rehab Center on Sunday morning when police say Robert Stewart went on his murderous rampage.

"I can guarantee he did an awful lot to help people, that's what he was all about, helping people," former co-worker Peggy Southerland said.

Family members say Avant gave his life, getting residents out of the line of fire.

"They said he went back first and got the people in dietary, and then he went back out and started helping other residents," Avant's father Jerry Avant Sr. said. "You know they found him wounded and he said I'm alright go help the others."

He says his son died later at the hospital from his wounds.

Avant grew up in Rockingham. After 10 years in the Coast Guard he became a nurse. Friends and co-workers say that was his calling.

"If a patient needed anything he was always more than accommodating," friend Lynn Valliere said. "He was just a special person we came out just to say our goodbyes to him because me meant that much to us."

And family members say they take some comfort in this tragedy knowing Avant will be remembered not so much for how he died, but how he lived for others.

"I just hope he will be an inspiration to other people," Avant Sr. said.

"I loved him, I just loved him," nursing home resident Helen Olive said.

On Thursday, friends and family will gather for Avant's funeral. They say it will be a celebration of his life.

Because he died a hero, he will be buried with full military honors.


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