Newport native Chris Rutherford, 25, a 2000 graduate of Frontier High School and 2003 graduate of Marietta College was killed Monday while serving in the U.S. Army in Iraq.
Rutherford is the son of Penny and Gary Rutherford, of Newport, and older brother to Brandon Rutherford.
The U.S. Department of Defense has not yet issued an official statement on his death, but Rutherford’s uncle Mark Mackey confirmed it to The Marietta Times Tuesday.
A spokeswoman with the Defense Department’s press office said if information on Rutherford had not been posted to the office’s Web site, it was not available for release.
Rutherford is the second Washington County soldier to die during the war. The first was Marietta resident Allen Nolan, 38, who died Sept. 30, 2004 after being injured on duty.
Rutherford had been back in Washington County visiting friends and family only last month after his first stint in Iraq, with signs all over the community welcoming him home.
“He was just home three weeks ago, and brought stuff from Iraq for everybody,” said Nicholas Mackey, 24, Rutherford’s first cousin.
“He was excited about going back to get it over with,” he said of Rutherford’s return to Iraq last month.
“Until we turned 18 we might just as well have been brothers,” Mackey said. “Growing up as kids we spent a lot of time at my grandparents. And Chris never quit smiling. I think he’s smiling in every picture I’ve seen him in.
“But it seemed like he was always in a hurry to get things done. Maybe there was a reason for that. Our family believes in God, and we believe things happen for a reason,” he said. “He died protecting us.”
Rutherford’s childhood friend Josh Martin, 25, now lives in North Carolina. He said his father saw Rutherford when he was in town.
“He said he looked extremely good — big and strong,” Martin said. “He was always a skinny kid, and he wasn’t a kid anymore.”
Rutherford was a former Marietta Times sports reporter who won an Ohio Associated Press Award for “Best Game Story” for his 2004 article on the Monroe Central softball team’s championship win. His bachelor’s degree from Marietta College was in journalism.
He was also an athlete, playing both basketball and football during his years at Frontier High School.
“He was just a super young man,” said Frontier football Coach Russ Morris. “He had the kind of personality where you just loved to have him around. He was definitely someone his parents can be proud of.”
Friend Eric Reed, 25, said he couldn’t begin to count the hours he spent in Rutherford’s driveway playing basketball growing up.
The two were friends since before kindergarten and graduated from Frontier together.
“We were best friends our entire childhood,” Reed said. “Chris had more zest for life than anyone I’ve ever been around. He was willing to do anything, he was always upbeat and so resilient. If something went wrong, he just decided to go in another direction.”
Just about the only word that Rutherford’s friends can’t use to describe him is shy.
“He was given the nickname ‘Wild Thing’ once in high school,” said Reed. “We had this motivational speaker and we were in an assembly and he (Rutherford) got up and sang ‘Wild Thing’ in front of the whole school. He brought the house down.”
Rutherford’s always-sunny attitude even extended to his tours in Iraq, said Reed.
“You would think going to war he would show some fear or negativity,” he said. “But he was unbelievable. It was just another experience for him.”
Reed said word has been spreading fast in the community about Rutherford’s death. He got the news from another high school classmate while pumping gas.
“It still doesn’t seem real,” he said. “I’m just wishing it wasn’t real.”
The news has impacted more than just the soldier’s friends and family.
Nancy Matheny, whose son has been in Iraq and is awaiting another deployment, said it hits home for those who have loved ones overseas.
“We pray every day that something like this doesn’t happen,” she said. “Unfortunately it always happens to someone’s family, and it’s every family’s nightmare. With my son’s first deployment, every time I would hear a car door at night I would think, ‘This is it.’”
Matheny has been working with the Washington County Chapter of the American Red Cross to provide support to military families. She said the group will do everything it can for the Rutherfords.
“Hopefully we can reach out and meet any needs they have,” she said.
Martin said Tuesday that he, like many of Rutherford’s loved ones, still remained shell-shocked.
“This couldn’t have happen to a more undeserving person,” he said. “Chris’s sense of humor could be a little brash, but I can’t even think of a time when he did something wrong or gave you a reason to be upset with him. He was a really fun, really great kid.”
Rutherford also seemed to have adjusted well to military life, Martin said.
“I think he really liked what he was doing,” he said. “He never felt like he’d made a bad decision.”
Paul Morton was Rutherford’s pastor at Valley View Baptist Church in Reno.
“Chris Rutherford was an exceptional young man, and his death is devastating for the church and this community,” he said. “He was just a fine young man.
“Chris was a huge NASCAR fan, and that’s what drew him into sports journalism,” Morton said. “But he made the decision to make the Army his career; it was something he wanted to do.”
He said Rutherford had opened his Christmas presents while he was home last month, and the family celebrated his June birthday a little early just before he returned to Iraq.
“He didn’t go back with any trepidation,” Morton said. “He had no fear. His quote was always, ‘It’s not that bad.’”
The pastor called the Rutherford family “a vital part of our church, and we take care of each other. That’s just what Christians are supposed to do.”
From the Marietta Times