Army Spc. John Carrillo Jr. only got to spend a few weeks with his newborn son, Julius, before deploying to Iraq in July 2010. But he adored the boy, much as he did his older son and the three younger siblings for whom he had been like a second father, family members said.
The 20-year-old from Stockton, known to loved ones as “Jr.,” was an outgoing man who liked to crack jokes, write music and have freestyle rap contests with friends.
He also was the family mediator, said his mother, Desiree Carrillo: “If anybody was hurting or upset, he would be able to fix it.”
In phone calls home from Iraq, Carrillo gave few details about his communications work there, but told his mother he was excited to come home and share his stories.
Reylene Carrillo, the soldier’s wife and mother of his two young sons, said she was nervous about his deployment. “I didn’t want him going to Iraq, but he had to,” she said.
But his family never imagined he would be in danger in his sleeping quarters.
In Fallouja, west of Baghdad, Carrillo shared a room with three other soldiers assigned to the 3rd Battalion, 15th Infantry Regiment, 4th Infantry Brigade Combat Team, 3rd Infantry Division at Ft. Stewart, Ga.
On Sept. 23 last year, supervisors chastised the men for having a messy room, and, according to military prosecutors, some of them began to argue.
One soldier, identified as Spc. Neftaly Platero, 33, of Kingwood, Texas, pulled his weapon on his roommates and started shooting, prosecutors said, killing Carrillo and Pfc. Gebrah P. Noonan, 26, of Watertown, Conn. A third soldier, who has not been publicly identified, was severely injured.
Platero was arraigned Sept. 12 on two counts of premeditated murder and one count of attempted premeditated murder, and is awaiting trial in military court. Platero’s attorney has said forensic evidence will prove his client’s innocence.
Carrillo’s mother said she has struggled since her son’s death to get straightforward information from the military.
“In the beginning, they would tell me my son was a hero. But if he was killed by the enemy, it would probably have been better,” she said. “Never in my wildest dreams would I have thought something like this would have happened to my son.”
It was not until eight months after he died that military officials told his mother that he had been shot eight times in the back, she said.
“All I wanted to know was how my son took his last breath,” she said. “I was there when he took his first and I wanted to know how he took his last. As a mother, I felt I had the right to know that.”
Carrillo grew up in Stockton and from the age of 6 talked about wanting to join the military. When he was 9, his family went on a trip to Hawaii and he marveled at the military sites they visited, his mother recalled.
He was the oldest of four siblings. In his teenage years, when he was home-schooled by his mother, he became like another father to his brother Joseph, feeding him, changing his diapers and sleeping beside him.
Carrillo went on to Edison High School and to Delta Community College, where he spoke about becoming an engineer. When he met campus military recruiters, his childhood interest in the military was rekindled and he enlisted in the Army.
Most of his family was not happy about that decision but supported him, his mother said. “That was a dream of his and he really went for it,” she said.
Tall with pitch-black, short-cropped hair and glasses, Carrillo was a sociable jokester who always would run into friends when he left the house, his family said.
Carrillo also was the cornerstone of his close-knit family, which is struggling to adapt to life without him, his mother said.
In addition to his wife, sons John III, 4, and Julius, 1, his mother and brother Joseph, 10, his survivors include his father, John Carrillo; another brother, Jordan, 8; and a sister, Desiree, 6.
“I feel in my heart that the military stole my son’s life away from him and from his kids,” his mother said. “He would’ve done so much in life.”
Reylene Carrillo said it remains difficult for her to speak publicly about her husband’s death.
“It’s hard because we’re still going through what happened and we’ll probably still be going through it for a while,” she said.
She said her older son, who is named after his father, talks about how much he misses him.
“He says, ‘I can feel him in my heart’ and tells his brother that his daddy’s an angel,” she said.
“He is our guardian angel,” she said she tells the boy. “He’s guiding us through life.”