March 20, 2013 — -- The seven Marines killed in a training exercise explosion in Nevada this week ranged in age from 19 to 26, most of them veterans of the war in Afghanistan, the military said in announcing their identities this evening.
"We send our prayers and condolences to the families of the Marines and sailors who have been killed and injured in this tragic accident," said Brig. Gen. Jim Lukeman, 2nd Marine Division commanding general, in the written announcement. "Our first priority is to provide them with the support they need during this very difficult time, and we're doing that right now."
The victims were identified as:
Five of the seven joined the Marines in June 2010, with Wild a Marine since October 2010 and Ripperda since September 2008.
Vanderwork's mother, Melissa, told ABC News affiliate WSOC-TV that she had a special bond with her son.
"He was truly my best friend. Not only my son but my best friend and my hero," Melissa Vanderwork said as she fought back tears. "He wanted to see the world," she added.
Chip Watts, Mason Vanderwork's high school football coach, called him a "team player" and a tough individual.
"Pure tenacity. Work ethic. Desire. Whatever the kid did, he did it 100 mph," Watts told WSOC.
Late Tuesday, the seven fallen Marines, all from the 2nd Marine Expeditionary Force in Camp Lejeune, N.C., were honored at a memorial service in the small military town of Hawthorne, Nev.
Flags flew at half-staff as hundreds gathered to pay their respects to the Marines, who were killed when a powerful 60mm mortar exploded in a tube during a training exercise.
"For those guys to lose their lives the way they did, in a training exercise, it was horrible," Michael Aulet said Tuesday night at the vigil.
Many in Hawthorne said they heard the sirens and medical helicopters flying in to rescue the Marines. The explosion occurred at the Hawthorne Army Depot 140 miles southeast of Reno Monday when a mortar round exploded in a tube at 9:55 p.m. MT.
The Marines have issued a suspension on the use of all 60mm mortars and their associated tubes while they conduct a review of what caused a round to explode. The suspension will affect mortars used both in training and in deployed settings.
Eight others were also injured in the blast and transported Renown Regional Medical Center in Reno for injuries that included trauma fractures and vascular injuries, hospital spokeswoman Stacy Kendall told ABC News Tuesday.
"I feel sorry for those families. We'll try to do as much as we can for them," Maria Lohand said, who works at the Army Depot and has children in the military.
Hawthorne has a population of approximately 3,000 people, with many personally connected to the military.
"This is Hawthorne. This is what Hawthorne's about. When something happens here we all band together," Michael Sours, a veteran, said at the vigil.