A Lake County man was among 11 people killed Thursday when an International Security Assistance Force helicopter crashed in Afghanistan.
The family of Richard Essex, 23, was struggling Friday to come to terms with the death of the U.S. Army gunner on the downed helicopter.
"It's just hard to think he's gone," said his sister, Jennifer Williamson. "He was such a big joker; when my mom called, I was almost waiting for him to pop around the corner and say &‘gotcha.'"
Essex's parents, Marion and Brett Hopkins, of Kelseyville, will fly to Delaware early Saturday to meet the plane that is bringing home his body, Williamson said. Although family members said they had been contacted by the military, the Pentagon Friday afternoon refused to confirm the identities of those who died when the helicopter went down.
Essex will be cremated, as he wished, she said. The family plans initially to hold a private service. A public military service will be held at 11 a.m., Sept. 1 at Kelseyville High School, said Principal Matt Cockerton.
"He was a nice kid. A real positive kid," said an emotional Cockerton. "He was back here last year doing a recruiting assignment. He was very proud of what he'd accomplished."
Essex was born in Blythe but moved to Lake County when he was just 3 months old, Williamson said. He attended Kelseyville High School, where he played football but was as much or more interested in music and poetry.
He played guitar and loved all types of music, Williamson said. But he primarily was a poet, having published two books of autobiographical poetry.
"He just loved writing poems," his sister said.
Among the belongings his parents will be retrieving from the military are notebooks filled with poems he wrote in Iraq and Afghanistan.