When Todd Dellit received a telephone call from a U.S. Army major and hastily set up a meeting within the hour Thursday afternoon, he wasn't sure what he was going to hear.
But he knew that what he and his wife, Teresa, were about to learn wasn't going to be good.
Their son, Chad, 22, had been serving in the U.S. Army since he boarded a bus in Davenport in September 2008, bound for processing in Des Moines before heading to Fort Jackson, S.C., for basic training. His duties took him to Fort Belvoir, Va., outside of Washington, D.C., to study geospatial engineering for five months; printing press training at Fort Leonard Wood, Mo., from May to July 2009; and most recently to Fort Bragg, N.C., where he was tasked with satellite mapping. He even worked on terrain mapping in connection with the earthquake that rocked Haiti in January 2010.
What they were about to hear was that their son — who loved to hunt, fish, and ride motorcycles and all-terrain vehicles — had been shot and left for dead in a Fayetteville, N.C., hotel parking lot the night before. It has turned their world upside down and left them reeling.
The questions are endless.
As of Sunday, what they did know was that Chad's body was found behind his truck in a grassy area between the parking lot and a Christian store. They also know police were called to the area on a report of shots fired earlier in the evening, but after canvassing the area in which an alleged shooter had run to, they left. A couple hours later, a hotel guest spotted Chad's body in the grass. He had been shot in the forehead; police have told the couple that based on the nature of his injury, Chad died instantly.
No arrests have yet been made in the case.
While they wait for that to happen, the couple and their daughter, Robin, have been preparing for Chad's funeral service, which is tentatively set for the end of this week, and his burial with full military honors at Rock Island National Cemetery. His military unit will be here for that service, as will his best friends, Manuel Martinez and Wade Feazell, his closest buddies from his high school days in Sarasota, Fla.
Chad graduated from Riverview High School in Sarasota in 2007, moving to Fulton with his parents in July 2008 to live with and care for his paternal grandfather.
The memories flowed freely Sunday as the couple recalled their only son.
“He always knew he wanted to be in the military and that he wanted to be a lifer,” Todd said.
He said his son was very intelligent, a man who had his pick of jobs based on the success of his military training. As young as 3, Chad was busy using hammer and nails to build; he liked to pretend he was cutting down trees and was very mechanically inclined.
“He treated everyone like family,” Teresa said. “He would help anyone out regardless of what they needed or even if he didn’t know them; he was always stopping to help strangers.”
He was very active with Beneva Christian Church youth group in Sarasota, having traveled on mission trips and participating in all the fundraisers for the youth group and church.
“And he could make everybody laugh,” Todd said.
“He was everybody's big brother, a big teddy bear,” Teresa said, adding that Robin said she had the best brother anyone could ever have.
They wonder if that is what led to the events of Wednesday night. They do not know why Chad was off the military base but they do wonder if he was there to help a friend in need. They are hoping someone comes forward with the information needed to piece the crime together so that the killer is brought to justice.
Todd said he is trying to come to grips with the fact that when one’s son enters the military at a time of war, parents prepare themselves for the possibility of death in combat — they never think they will lose their child to a crime on American soil.
He also wants people to know what Chad meant to those who knew and loved him.
“I want people to know that he was a good guy,” Todd said. “He was an outstanding kid. Growing up he never caused any problems. I want people to know that he was well-loved by everyone he came in contact with.”