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When the bullets started flying on their wedding anniversary, he died protecting her

When the bullets started flying on their wedding anniversary, he died protecting her
The Beatons at Pismo Beach, a favored vacation spot. (Courtesy of Lauraine Cook)

Jack and Laurie Beaton loved country music and traveling, and regularly attended multi-day concerts such as Stagecoach. This year, they road-tripped to the Route 91 Harvest festival in Las Vegas with two other couples to celebrate their 23rd wedding anniversary.

That evening, Jack posted a picture of the group on Facebook, all smiles as they sipped beers and sprawled on the grass with the stage in the background. Laurie later posted that she was with her best friend and soulmate.

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"Here's to 23 wonderful years and looking forward to 23 more," she wrote. It was Sunday, their anniversary.

Jack and Laurie Beaton on their wedding day, 23 years ago Sunday.
Jack and Laurie Beaton on their wedding day, 23 years ago Sunday.

Less than an hour later, the shooting began. Like many in the crowd, Jack initially thought it was fireworks, but Laurie felt a bullet whiz by her shoulder, said Jerry Cook, Laurie's father, recounting a conversation with her shortly after the shooting.

As bullets sprayed around them, the group fell to the ground and Jack tried to shield his wife.

"Jack got on top of Laurie to protect her. He laid on top of her and said, 'Laurie, I love you.' She said, 'I love you too,' and boom — he got hit. I don't know how many times," Cook said.

"She said, 'He was dying on top of me. I told him I loved him and I would see him in heaven.'"

Rescue workers urged Laurie to take shelter, and one of their friends tried to pull Jack by the hand, but he appeared lifeless. Once the shooting stopped, the group went back to look for Jack, but could not find his body.

Through the night, Laurie and her parents called Las Vegas hospitals but couldn't find her 54-year-old husband. She filed a missing persons report early Monday. That afternoon, police told her that he was among the dead.

Later Monday, Laurie flew to Phoenix to pick up their daughter, Delaney, a freshman at Arizona State, and returned home to Bakersfield, where their son, Jake, attends college.

"Lost my best friend. I love you so much more then you could ever imagine," Jake Beaton posted on Facebook, along with a collage of pictures of his father, mother, sister and himself. "Please watch over our family. You will forever be remembered as our hero! #atruehero"

The Beatons met through friends during Laurie's senior year of high school and quickly became serious, but waited to get married until 1994, once Laurie finished her degree at UC Irvine.

"They adored one another. She truly lost her soulmate," said Lauraine Cook, Laurie's mother. "It's a greater loss obviously for the wife and the children. She's my baby, an only baby, and we would do anything we could for her and for Jack. Not having another child or a son, he became more like a son to us."

The couple lived in Orange County, but after Jake was born, the young family moved back to Bakersfield. Then Delaney came along.

Jack worked in construction and Laurie in human resources at a local energy company. But their lives centered around their children, watching their daughter cheerlead or taking their son dirt bike riding in the rural areas outside Bakersfield. Their children's friends were always welcome, in their house or along on their travels.

"Theirs was the house everybody came to," Jerry Cook said.

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Lauraine Cook recalled that the family would go to Pismo Beach during Easter break.

"They would have four or five tag-alongs in the trailer. They were kind of the center, always," she said. "Jack was totally involved with that stuff. He loved it. He had a heart of gold. He would do anything for those who he loved — his family, his friends, even for strangers."

His actions Sunday night reflected this nature, an act of heroism that House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy paid tribute to on Tuesday:

"He gave the ultimate sacrifice for the one he loved."

For the latest on national and California politics, follow @LATSeema on Twitter.

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