Sunday, April 08, 2007

Gabriel J. Figueroa killed by small arms fire

BALDWIN PARK - The family of a soldier killed in Iraq on Tuesday remembered a thoughtful, funny young man who loved to fish and read Stephen King novels.

Gabriel J. Figueroa, 20, was killed in Baghdad when his unit encountered "enemy forces using small-arms fire," military officials said.

"We just talked to him Sunday," his mother, Elsa, said Thursday. "I had told him that I was counting the months 'til he could come home."

She said Gabriel was supposed to return home in December.

He was an Army medic assigned to the 1st Battalion, 8th Calvary Regiment, 2nd Brigade Combat Team, 1st Cavalry Division hailing from Fort Hood, Texas.

The family said they learned the tragic news Tuesday, a day Elsa described as long and full oftears.

"When I opened the door and saw them, I realized what they were here for," said Javier Figueroa, Gabriel's father. Gabriel Figueroa is the third soldier from Baldwin Park to die in the war, city officials said.

"This is sad for our city and \ family," Baldwin Park Mayor Manny Lozano said. "It hits the family hard and our community as well."

Lozano described the city as close-knit, with a "small-town atmosphere."

"A lot of us know each other," he said. "It hits hard, obviously."

He said the city will assist Figueroa's family in any way possible.

Figueroa's parents said Gabriel loved being a soldier. He enlisted after he graduated from Sierra Vista High School in late 2005.

"He loved the experience," Elsa added. "He loved when the soldiers would walk up to him and say, `Hey Doc."'

Gabriel's parents said he told them that he had no regrets about joining the Army.

"He definitely did not join because of the politics, he couldn't care less about \ Bush," Javier said. "He just wanted to be a soldier."

They said Gabriel expressed interest in pursuing a career in the medical field after returning from Iraq. He also volunteered as an Explorer with Baldwin Park's police force from 2001 to 2003.

He was described by Baldwin Park police Lt. David Reynoso as an eager learner and "very capable."

"He was very respectful to adults," Reynoso said. "He came from a good family."

On Thursday, Figueroa's four siblings laughed and cried as they spoke about Gabriel. Xavier, 21, recalled that when he and his brother enrolled together in junior lifeguard training as children, Gabriel was failed on the second or third day of the course for pushing him into the pool.

They remembered him getting lost in the Santa Fe Dam Recreation Area on one of his fishing excursions.

His youngest sister, Tanya, 13, recalled that the family had sent him Spongebob Squarepants bed sheets, which his Army buddies made fun of.

Danica, 18, said Gabriel was protective of her, and Sebastian, 15, described his brother as caring.

The family, which owns Fig Memorials, a headstone-making company, is planning to make Gabriel's grave marker themselves. They have tentative plans for a military burial at 1 p.m. April 14 at Rose Hills Memorial Park and Mortuary in Whittier, depending on when Figueroa's body is returned home.

From the Tribune