Jesse Childress, 29, was killed Friday during the movie theater shooting in Aurora, Colo. The US Airforce Reserve Staff Sergeant shielded a friend from a barrage of bullets inside the Century 16 theater. Childress grew up in the Antelope Valley and is being remembered as a good man by those who knew him. Gordon Tokumatsu reports from Lancaster for the NBC4 News at 5 p.m. on July 23, 2012.
An Air Force sergeant who died trying to protect a friend in Friday's mass shooting at a Colorado movie theater was from the Palmdale area, friends said this weekend.
Staff Sgt. Jesse Childress, who was stationed in the town of Aurora, where the massacre took place, had gone to the midnight showing of the film, "The Dark Knight Rises," with two other service members.
When the alleged shooter, James Holmes, opened fire, Childress threw himself in front of a friend, Munirih Gravelly, an act she said saved her life.
"I feel really sorry ... that he's gone," she told NBC4, fighting tears, "that none of us were able to at least hold his hand and look him in the eye while he passed.
"I lost a friend."
Childress was one of 12 people killed and 58 injured in the shooting. He was 29.
Neighbors created a makeshift memorial outside his parent's home in Lake Los Angeles.
"It’s shocking," said William Grier, a neighbor and friend, in an interview at the home of Childress' parents in Lake Los Angeles. "He was a quiet, nice young guy. It’s really horrible for a nice person to die like that."
Grier remembered Childress fondly.
"We all kind of grew up together because it’s a small city and we came over here every day," Grier said. "We played football in the front yard. We all just hung out."
At Littlerock High School, Childress' former history teacher Debbie Earl says simply: "Jesse was a good man."
That sentiment was echoed by his former soccer coach, Eric Stanford, who described the high school athlete as "just a good person."
According to the Denver Post, Childress attended "The Dark Knight Rises" with colleagues from the Buckley Air Force Base in Aurora.
"He was a fun-loving individual," Sgt. Alejandro Sanchez told the Associated Press. "If you needed help, no matter the time of day he would stay late. He would come in early to help out the unit in any way he can, even if it meant long hours."
The family could not be reached for comment at the time of this report.
"I feel pain and agony for the family," Grier said. "My heart goes out to them."
A cyber systems operator for the Air Force, Childress was on active duty orders in the 310th Force Support Squadron.
He worked as a Cyber Systems Operation Technician at Buckley and joined the Air Force Reserves after serving in the Army.
Childress was one of two servicemen killed in the shooting. The other was John Larimer, 27, of Crystal Lake, Ill.
Both will be laid to rest with full military honors.
"I love you man, you were like a brother to us all," Grier said of Childress. "It’s sad that that happened. It’s crazy."