Family honors slain soldier who planned to become a priest

Jennifer Lee Preyss By Jennifer Lee Preyss

May 20, 2012 at 12:20 a.m.
Updated May 21, 2012 at 12:21 a.m.

Will Wearden died from a stabbing near Kingsville.

Will Wearden died from a stabbing near Kingsville.

In Annie Coffey's front yard on Buena Vista Lane, a Texas state flag is roped between two oak trees.

It hangs at half-staff to honor her brother, a fallen soldier.

Inside her home, friends and family gather in the living room to remember Will Wearden - clinking beer bottles, hugging family, and laughing and crying as they recalled memories of their favorite serviceman.

But Coffey's brother, Will Wearden, a 33-year-old former Army infantry specialist and Victoria native, wasn't killed in war.

He was the victim of a stabbing death Monday near Kingsville, his body found in a nearby ditch about 2:30 p.m. and his Toyota pickup truck stolen.

As a devout Aggie and Catholic, Wearden was attending Texas A&M University-Kingsville, pursuing an agriculture-related degree, his father, Frank Wearden, said.

But after a three-year stint in the military and a 15-month tour in Iraq, the serviceman had plans to graduate with an Aggie ring before moving on to the next chapter in his life - the priesthood.

"He was waiting to graduate so he could go through Discernment," said Wearden's longtime friend, Becca Davis Harkleroad, of Spicewood.

His sister said Wearden always wanted to be a priest.

"And we always thought he would be a priest," she said. "The whole family did. He wanted to at least go through the process and see if he was meant to do it."

Service to God would have been a comfortable fit for Wearden, who was long-committed to church, family and living out his faith in love.

"He was one of the most learned Catholics I've ever met," Wearden's brother, Winchester Wearden, 35, said. "He studied everything, about every religion. He even read the Koran when he was in Iraq so he could better understand the culture."

As friends and family recalled stories of Wearden, the man who loved to climb trees in his bare feet, serenade his sisters and occasionally set things on fire, emotions shifted from irrupting laughter to moments of silence and tearful outbursts.

"He brought people together," his father said.

"Everybody loved him. There was nobody who didn't love him," his mother, Gloria Wearden, said.

At St. Joseph High School, Wearden was prom king, co-captain of the football team and a friend to everyone who attended the school, said friend and co-football captain Michael Magallan, of Houston

At home, he was the beloved brother, son, "Uncle Wu," and master of the barbecue.

"We're going to miss him. I can't believe his nieces and nephews are going to grow up without him," Coffey said.

Wearden's family and friends said the soldier's legacy will be one of service, not only to his beloved Texas A&M Aggies, but to his family, friends and Catholic faith.

"Faith and service will be his legacy," Magallan said.

Michael Lerma, 20, of Riviera, was arrested and charged with capital murder in relation to the case. Wearden's Toyota pickup was found in Lerma's driveway.

Coffey said the family is praying for Lerma, as their soldier would have wanted.



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