Family and friends are mourning the death of a 2009 Madelia High School graduate who was killed in Iraq, though the Defense Department has not yet said how or when Campo died.
Army medic Sgt. Emilio Campo Jr., 20, was born in Texas, but moved with his family to Madelia in the early 1990s. His cousin, Martha Magally Garcia, said family and relatives heard a news story at 2 p.m. Monday that an unidentified Minnesota soldier had died in Iraq.
"The first thing that came to our minds was Junior," Garcia said.
Garcia said that initial worry subsided, because Campo had a habit of sending home reassuring messages when trouble flared in Iraq. She said that in phone calls, he'd always say "everything's fine."
"We didn't realize nothing until around seven o'clock, when they came and gave us the bad news," she said. "And it's a very devastating news. He was such a wonderful kid."
Campo's parents traveled to Dover Air Force Base in Delaware for the return of his body on Wednesday. Other family members said Campo wanted to pursue a career in medicine and thought the Army was his best opportunity for that.
The news of his death hit hard in Madelia and wherever the soldier's friends were located. Classmate Samantha Bestick was in Milwaukee, attending Marquette University, when she got a text message.
"I just figured it was a rumor going around Madelia, I didn't want to believe it," Bestick said. "And then my mom called and then I just broke down."
Bestick said her reaction is a testament to the impact Campo had on people. She said he was charismatic, a smooth talker, someone who was always there to help friends, or just hang out with them. She remembers going to the mall in Mankato with him.
"He'd always either make friends or he'd start screaming in the middle of the mall just having a good time all by himself," she said. "It was so fun."
Another high school classmate, Jared Bridges, said he spent time with Campo nearly every day during their high school years. He said the Army medic was a popular student, and was the school's homecoming king in the fall of 2008.
Bridges said Campo was active in several sports and always was there to push his teammates to excel. He said in track he ran his best one-mile race ever, after Campo gave him a pep talk.
"He was there to motivate me and got me going," Bridges said. "And he said I did a heck of a job, so I felt good about that."
Bridges and others have been visiting the old spots in Madelia where they spent time with Campo; one of those locations is the Garcia house. Campo's cousin Martha Magally Garcia said the family is having an open house to remember Campo and to let everyone come together in their shared grief over the soldier's passing.
"We set up his pictures and kind of an altar for him," Garcia said. "People have been coming and going like crazy."
Garcia said one thing everyone's talking about is Campo's final telephone call home, last Sunday.
"It was something that he always said when called. Don't worry family, I'm still alive. Joking and teasing with us on the phone," she said. "We couldn't believe, we can't believe, that he's gone now."
There was a mass for Campo at St. Mary's Catholic Church in Madelia Tuesday. Family and friends will gather Wednesday night to pray the rosary. Then on Thursday the high school will pay its respects. On the last day of school for the year, students will gather to remember Campo and hear a trumpet blow taps.
Funeral plans for the soldier have not yet been announced.
Campo is the 89th member of the military with strong Minnesota ties to die of combat-related injuries in the conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan.
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