2 California Soldiers Die in Baghdad

Los Angeles Times Staff Writer

When Army Sgt. Michael W. Mitchell’s stepmother recently heard that a soldier from his division had been killed in Iraq, she e-mailed him, saying, “OK, bud, we need to hear from you.”

“Hey, I’m OK,” the 25-year-old soldier responded to his stepmother, Kimberly Mitchell of Visalia, Calif., explaining: “Just so you know, there is like 35,000 soldiers in the 1st Armored Division, so no reason to get all panicky.”

One day later, on April 4, though, Mitchell and seven other U.S. soldiers were killed in Baghdad when they were attacked by armed Iraqi insurgents. Mitchell was assigned to the 2nd Battalion, 37th Armor Regiment, 1st Brigade, 1st Armored Division in Friedberg, Germany.

As of Friday, 652 American servicemen and women had been killed in Iraq. Mitchell was one of 75 soldiers with ties to California who have died.

Mitchell was born in Huntington Beach. His parents, Bill Mitchell and Cathy Baker, divorced when he was a toddler, and he moved with his father to Porterville, Calif., when he was about 3.

Mitchell graduated in 1997 from Porterville’s Monache High School, where he was on the varsity wrestling, cross country and track teams.

Mitchell was deployed from Germany to Iraq about 10 months ago. He had been scheduled to return to Germany temporarily on April 19 to marry his fiance, Bianca Liebl, a native of that country.

On Saturday, his family was planning a memorial service in Atascadero, Calif., where his father, Bill Mitchell -- now divorced from Kimberly Mitchell -- lives.

Mitchell also is survived by two sisters, Christine Jayroe and Terri Pedrino; a stepsister, Kirsten Steele; his paternal grandparents, Mitch and Mary Louise Mitchell; and his maternal grandmother, Verna Scovil.

Funeral arrangements have not been completed.