North County Times
April 2, 2003

Temecula resident killed in Iraq

                      JOHN HUNNEMAN
                      Staff Writer

                      TEMECULA ---- A local hero, born on the Fourth of July, is the first Southwest Riverside County
                      resident to die in the war in Iraq.

                      Military officials confirmed Tuesday that Temecula resident Marine Capt. Aaron J. Contreras, originally
                      from Sherwood, Ore., died Sunday when the UH-1N Huey helicopter he was piloting crashed during takeoff
                      from a base in southern Iraq.

                      Contreras was 31 years old. He was born on July 4, 1971.

                      The crash occurred during takeoff from a forward refueling point in southern Iraq, killing three U.S.
                      servicemen and injuring another. The cause of the crash was unclear but enemy fire was not involved,
                      Capt. Dani Burrows of the U.S. Central Command, told The Associated Press.

                      From his family home in Oregon, Edward Contreras described his son as a devout Catholic and an athlete
                      who played football, basketball, baseball and ran track at Sherwood High School, graduating in 1990.

                      Contreras also graduated from Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University in Prescott, Ariz., before joining the
                      Marines, his father said.

                      Edward Contreras declined any further comment and family members in Temecula have declined to speak
                      to the media. It is not known how long Aaron, his wife, Janelle, and their three children have lived in

                      The Rev. Tom McCarthy of St. Francis Catholic Church in Sherwood, where the Contreras family
                      worships, remembered a nice young man with a beautiful family who was committed to his church.

                      "We have a custom at our church called perpetual adoration," McCarthy said Tuesday night. "Our chapel
                      is open 24 hours a day, seven days a week. Different parishioners commit to coming to the chapel for an
                      hour each week to pray and Aaron signed and showed up every week."

                      Aaron Contreras also convinced his parents to sign up for a hour of prayer each week, said McCarthy.

                      "He really was very religious, especially for such a young man," McCarthy said. "He was very well versed
                      in the Bible and spent a lot of time talking about his faith with his family."

                      Aaron Contreras joined the Marines in 1997, according to information provided by the base, and had been
                      assigned to Marine Light Attack Helicopter Squadron (HMLA)-169, Marine Aircraft Group-39 at Camp
                      Pendleton since November 2000.

                      In addition to Contreras, Sgt. Michael V. Lalush of Troutville, Va., died in the crash, along with another
                      Marine whose identity has not been released.

                      The Associated Press contributed to this report.

                      Contact John Hunneman at (909) 676-4315, Ext. 2603 or