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NEW PHOTOS: Loved and lost: Community supports fallen Marine

Posted: June 2, 2010 10:06 p.m.
Updated: June 3, 2010 7:00 p.m.

Friends, neighbors and people who didn't even know Marine Corps Pfc. Jake William Suter gathered outside his stepfather and mother's home in Stevenson Ranch Wednesday evening. A neighbor held a candle light prayer vigil in memory of the late Marine, killed in Afghanistan May 29, 2010.

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While parents of a young soldier killed in Afghanistan wait to learn how he died, a community has provided them one irrefutable reminder — their son was loved.

Scores of wellwishers descended on a tiny, quiet cul-de-sac in Stevenson Ranch on Wednesday night to show how much they care about U.S. Marine Corps Pfc. Jake William Suter, who died on Saturday morning in local Afghanistan time, after only five days in the war-torn country.

The young Marine’s vigil extended this year’s Memorial Day, as many of those who turned out Monday at Eternal Valley Memorial Park to pay their respect to fallen heroes met again on this hilly suburban street to pay respect to our community’s latest hero.

Against a slide show of Suter’s life, speakers such as Congressman Howard “Buck” McKeon, R-Santa Clarita, took turns reflecting on the young man’s courage and pride.

“They’re showing a great courage, the same great courage that Jake has shown us,” McKeon said about the young man’s parents.

Chris Unthank, Suter’s stepfather, was unable to hold back tears when asked before the vigil to reflect on Wednesday’s ceremony.

“You don’t realize how amazing a community is until something like this happens,” he said with a breaking voice. “I don’t wish this to happen on anyone because it’s tragic. My heart aches because my son is gone. But, you really get a true understanding that it takes a village to raise a child.”

Suter, 18, a June 2009 graduate of West Ranch High School, died in the northern Afghan province of Helmand.

He died supporting combat operations in Helmand as part of Operation Enduring Freedom, according a brief news release issued Wednesday by the Department of Defense.

Unthank returned Tuesday night from Dover Air Force Base in Delaware with his wife, Michelle, who is Suter’s mother, but without the young man’s body.

The Suter case is under investigation, according to the Defense Department.

“A medical team came up from D.C. to do a full autopsy, MRI and CT scan, and to take measurements to get a proper uniform on him — all those things — and it takes time,” Unthank said.

Suter’s body was “unloaded off the plane Monday,” he said, adding he expects it will take a few days for “those things to happen.”

Unthank said the terms “NCIS” and “JAG” units were terms military officials used in speaking with him about the case.

The acronyms for Naval Criminal Investigations Service and Judge Advocate General are familiar to TV viewers as the names of shows about criminal investigations conducted by the military,

Military officials could not be reached for comment.

Unthank said he asked military officials about the precise location of his son’s death and was told: “I can’t tell you that.”

“He knew he was going to a hot zone,” Unthank added. “They’re waiting until the report is complete to answer any questions.”

“He had only been there five days,” he added. “He was just getting his bearings.”

For now, the young man’s parents are going to pay attention to the community that is paying attention to their son.

“Since Cecile (Marin-Manalo) was the one who started this whole thing, we just let her do it,” he said.

The Suter family, with relatives arriving from out of town, has provided more than 300 personal photos of Suter for a slide show presented at the vigil.

Since moving into their Bates Place home in 2001, Jake Suter grew to become a fixture of caring, kindness and passion.
Candle-holders at the vigil, some of whom brought flowers and cards, saw photos of Suter as middle linebacker for the West Ranch High School football team during his freshman and sophomore years.

Sean O’Brien, Suter’s football coach at West Ranch, told the vigil attendees: “What I saw on the football field in Jake was fearlessness.”

By all indications from friends and family, Suter gave the same amount of passion and devotion to the Marines.

“He was very excited and very motivated to go over there,” Unthank said, adding that the family plans to make funeral and memorial service details available once they hear from the military.

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