Temecula resident killed in Iraq
TEMECULA ---- A local hero, born on the Fourth of July, is the first Southwest
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 firstname.lastname@example.org.