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Marine Lance Cpl. Tyler A. Roads, 20, Burney; killed while on patrol in Afghanistan

The death of Tyler Roads, a Marine killed in Afghanistan this summer, seemed to touch nearly everyone in Burney, the tiny Northern California town where he grew up.

When Roads’ body was returned for burial, an estimated 2,500 people, about two-thirds of Burney’s population, turned out to watch as a gray hearse carrying his casket snaked slowly down Main Street.

“Tyler’s death, for this community, a place where everyone seems to know everyone else, it was a punch to the gut,” said Larry Snelling, superintendent of the area’s Fall River School District, who was close to Roads. “It’s very much something people here are struggling to deal with.”

A radio operator, Lance Cpl. Tyler A. Roads was killed July 10 as his Marine unit was on patrol in southern Afghanistan’s Helmand province, on the Pakistan border. He was 20. The Marine Corps press office said it could give no further details about his death, which is under investigation.

Roads was assigned to the 3rd Battalion, 6th Marine Regiment, 2nd Marine Division, 2nd Marine Expeditionary Force at Camp Lejeune, N.C.

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Finding out exactly how he died will bring little solace, said his grandmother, Olivia Stevenson. “It is not going to change the pain,” said Stevenson, who helped raise Roads. “We will never have those hugs and kisses and those smiling faces again.”

From the time he was a little boy, Roads was avid about the outdoors. He enjoyed fishing, hunting, hiking and camping in the wilderness surrounding Burney, a mill town near Mt. Shasta.

He and his grandmother would often sit in her backyard at night, staring upward, talking about sunsets and the wonder of glimmering stars. When he was in Afghanistan, nighttime became a touchstone.

On her grandson’s occasional calls home, “he would tell me about the sky in Afghanistan, the clouds, the bright stars just shining so much,” Stevenson said. “And I would look at the sky and it was comforting to know we shared the sky.”

Since grade school, Roads had talked about becoming a Marine, following the footsteps of his grandfather, Greg Stevenson. It was part of his selfless nature, his grandmother said.

As a kid, Roads would try to protect weaker children from bullying, and once gave away his best baseball cleats to a Little League teammate whose family could not afford a good pair, his grandmother said. During short trips home on leave after he became a Marine, he often visited an elderly veteran who’d fought in the Pacific during World War II, out of respect for the older man’s service.

Stevenson said she was wary of her grandson’s desire to join the military because he committed to the Marines while two wars were being waged. Roads sought to reassure her. He hoped eventually to work for the U.S. Forest Service or become a police officer, but first he wanted to be the kind of man who stood up when his country needed him most, no matter the danger.

One evening early this year, Stevenson came home to find a message on her answering machine. It was her grandson, calling from Afghanistan. “This might be the last call I get to make for a while,” she recalled him saying. There was fatigue in his voice. “I love you, I always wanted to be a Marine and serve my country. I kind of took it to the extreme, being infantry and a grunt, but I want to serve my country.”

Not long afterward, Roads was killed.

“Nothing will be the same again,” Stevenson lamented. “Our community lost a young man with such great promise. And I will never be able to speak about the beautiful sky with my grandson again.”

In addition to the Stevensons, his maternal grandparents, Roads’ survivors include his wife, Megan Stone-Roads; mother, Sonia Roads; father and stepmother, David and Liz Roads; sisters, Tayler Roads and Trinity Markham; brothers, Thomas and T.J. Markham; and paternal grandparents, Jim and Betty Hendricks.

kurt.streeter@latimes.com


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