Year in review: Paul Walker and six other inspirational people who died too soon
Paul Walker, 40, had been acting since childhood. His movie roles gave the Glendale native material success.
But a few years ago, after an earthquake in Haiti, Walker made another decision. He assembled a group of first-responders, “taking a team there, out of his own pocket,” said a spokesman for what became a quick-response first-aid organization.
Walker later traveled to the scenes of other natural disasters, in addition to writing checks. Added the spokesman: “He didn’t want anyone to know he was there. All he wanted was a chainsaw, point him in the right direction -- he wanted to go to work.”
Chris Kyle, 38, was a decorated war veteran and author of the bestselling book, “American Sniper.” He was also, according to tributes at his Texas memorial service, “a Navy man who hated the water and a devoted father.”
After his multiple tours of duty in Iraq, the Navy SEAL founded an organization aimed at helping emotionally and physically troubled vets. Urging others to reach out to ex-warriors too, he told one interviewer that even simple things such as mowing a veteran’s lawn or babysitting for a veteran’s children “can mean the world.”
Investigators believe that Kyle was gunned down in February, along with a friend, by a troubled veteran he had tried to befriend, as he had others struggling to adjust to life at home.
Award-winning journalist Michael Hasting, 33, was controversial; the New York Times’ own public editor took issue with the paper’s obituary, writing that Hastings should also be remembered as “a fearless disturber of the peace who believed not in playing along with those in power, but in radical truth-telling.”
His stories had impact; the writer was perhaps best known for his work about Gen. Stanley McChrystal, then the commander of U.S. forces in Afghanistan, which documented the schism between civilian government officials and the military. Hastings was also a critic of the “surveillance state.”
The crusading writer, who “wanted to pursue the kinds of stories that wouldn’t get written otherwise,” according to his family, died in a car crash in Los Angeles in June.
Monica Quan, 28, a standout athlete for Cal State University Long Beach and Concordia University, was moving from player to mentor. She had become an assistant coach at Cal State Fullerton, where, as “Coach Mo,” she was teaching “MO-tivation” to young players.
Said a colleague: “She was bright, driven and loved basketball and was passionate about teaching young women the game and about life. She’d have been a fantastic head coach. She was a rising coach. That’s what’s so hard about it all.”
A player remembered Quan, right, stressing the fundamentals of the game but not being afraid to point out any missteps. Following the team’s first game after losing Quan, the player said Coach Mo would have agreed: “Today we didn’t take care of the details the way we should have.”
Quan and her fiance were shot dead in Irvine in February, allegedly by an ex-cop who had a grudge against the LAPD and Quan’s captain father.
Zach Sobiech, 18, had battled bone cancer for years. The Minnesota teenager spent months in the hospital, underwent multiple surgeries and repeated rounds of chemotherapy.
He started writing music after his diagnosis of osteosarcoma, and started a band with friends. In 2012, informed he had months to live, Sobiech recorded the song “Clouds” about his medical journey and as a thank you to those who had stood by him.
The YouTube hit earned him tributes, to which he said: “With my situation, it’s not like you can sit and be sad. It’s not fair to everybody else, and it’s not fair to yourself. Why not have some fun with the time you have left.”
Colleen Ritzer, 24, found geometry and algebra fun. The popular math teacher at Danvers High School in Massachusetts couldn’t stop instructing: On her Twitter account, according to interviewers, “she interspersed homework assignments and exhortations to work through tough math problems with cooking talk and inspirational messages.”
Students praised her willingness to stay late and explain hard concepts. She was pursuing a master’s degree in counseling, telling the program that she was dedicated to “helping students in times of need.”
Last summer she wrote: “No matter what happens in life, be good to people ... being good to people is a wonderful legacy to leave behind.”
She was found dead near the school in October, allegedly killed by a student she was trying to help.
Martin Richard, 8, told “knock-knock jokes, always won at math games and stuck up for friends at school,” according to his classmates in Dorchester, Mass.
He took to heart the peace-loving messages of his second-grade teacher, who participated in marches and assigned art projects to help her students comprehend the cause. Last year, he made a poster that read: “No more hurting people. Peace.”
Along with his family, Martin was cheering friends running in the Boston Marathon in April. The second bomb took his life and seriously injured his sister, mother and father.
A friend of Martin’s teacher told an interviewer: “His message resonates powerfully today. My prayer is that we all live by Martin’s words, paying tribute to his too-brief but immeasurably valuable life by following his example.”