SUSAN STAMBERG, host:
Fourteen-year veteran Shawn Suzch was killed while patrolling the Mansour section of Baghdad. Friends and family remember a man who was determined to succeed in spite of his troubled childhood.
From Philadelphia, Joel Rose reports.
JOEL ROSE: Once you're inside the Bucks County Youth Center, it can be hard to get out of the justice system.
Unidentified Man: This is our control center.
ROSE: Shawn Suzch passed through this detention center more than once. Director Donald McGregor says Suzch never committed any serious crimes, he just didn't have anywhere else to go. McGregor says Suzch was always a good kid.
Mr. DONALD McGREGOR (Director, Bucks County Youth Center, Pennsylvania): He was a young man that made a decision of what he wanted to do, and he went out and did it in spite of being involved in the system.
ROSE: Shawn Suzch never met his biological father. He and his two half-brothers wound up in foster homes.
Mr. McGREGOR: If you had known Shawn or lived with Shawn, you would never know that he had this really crappy hand dealt to him. You would never, ever know it.
ROSE: Rick Forder(ph) still has photographs of Shawn Suzch on the wall of his office, right next to the pictures of his own kids. Forder and his wife took Suzch into their home when he was a junior in high school. Forder says Suzch had already decided to enlist after graduation.
Mr. RICK FORDER (Former Foster-care Provider of Sergeant First Class Shawn Suzch): It became his family. It's probably why he continued to stay in the Army. I mean, he talked constantly about his men.
ROSE: Suzch served in Kosovo and Macedonia, and he was on his third tour of duty in Iraq. His death came as a shock to his former teachers at Pennridge High School, about an hour north of Philadelphia.
Ms. DONNA TRUMBOWER (Childhood Development Teacher, Pennridge High School): He loved kids, and they loved him. If he sat down, soon there'd be five kids around him.
ROSE: Donna Trumbower teaches a class in childhood development at Pennridge.
Ms. TRUMBOWER: I was so happy to hear that he had a wife, and he had a child. Those are the things that Shawn really wanted, was a family that functioned, and he finally had that, so I was so happy for him.
ROSE: But Suzch didn't have that family for long. He flew from Iraq to Fort Stewart, Georgia, in September for the birth of his daughter, Alissa(ph), but Suzch's wife Angela(ph) says he only stayed two weeks.
Ms. ANGELA SUZCH (Widow of Sergeant First Class Shawn Suzch): I had some health issues, and I told him, I was like maybe you can stay home for a little longer, and he looked at me, he's like no, I know you'll be okay with the baby. I have to go back to my soldiers and make sure that they are okay, and I have to bring them home, and I'll be home in a couple months.
ROSE: Sergeant First Class Shawn Suzch was killed by a suicide bomber on March 10. He was 32 years old.
For NPR News, I'm Joel Rose.
(Soundbite of music)
STAMBERG: This is NPR News.
NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by Verb8tm, Inc., an NPR contractor, and produced using a proprietary transcription process developed with NPR. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.