By Katie Farrell Lovett and Liz King
AMESBURY — Jordan Shay, the 22-year-old Amesbury native who was killed in Iraq this week, was remembered by his friends and family yesterday as a "ray of sunshine" who knew how to be a friend.
"Jordan was the most wonderful kid I ever met," his aunt, Dawn Palmer, said yesterday. "He was kind, considerate, thoughtful, full of adventure. He's done more in his 22 years than I'd ever do."
Palmer, of Seabrook, N.H., said her nephew loved to hike and go diving.
He had purchased a diamond engagement ring and planned to propose to his girlfriend, Kelsey Chandonnet, when he returned from Iraq. The two met in school and had been dating for three years, she said. "It would have been longer if he had his way ... he was chasing after her forever."
Shay died from injuries sustained in a vehicle rollover accident on Sept. 3, Sgt. Pallas A. Wahl, a public affairs spokeswoman for the Massachusetts National Guard said yesterday. There is an ongoing investigation of the accident, she said. Also killed in the accident was Army Sgt. Todd Selge, 25, originally of Burnsville, Minn. Selge and Shay appear to have been friends — Selge posted greetings and messages on Shay's MySpace pages.
Selge's wife told her hometown newspaper in Burnsville that the two were killed when their vehicle fell 60 feet off a bridge.
Shay, a 2005 Amesbury High School graduate, was a specialist in the 5th Battalion, 20th Infantry Regiment, 2nd Infantry Division, based in Fort Lewis, Wash. He was serving his second tour of duty and was stationed in Baqubah, Iraq. He had been deployed on this tour just last month.
An only child, Shay lost his father, Michael, to cancer when he was only 2 years old, family spokeswoman Joanne Ross said in a statement.
"The Shay family would like to thank everyone for all their love and support they have shown over the last few days," Ross said. "We would like everyone to know how proud Jordan was to be serving his country and how proud we are of his dedication and the ultimate sacrifice he made for our nation."
Ross said the Shays are sending thoughts and prayers to Chandonnet and the family of Selge, as well as the other soldiers who were injured in the accident.
"Please remember the other men and women who continue to risk their lives for us in Iraq and Afghanistan," Ross read. "They deserve our gratitude and are in our thoughts and prayers."
Family friend Ali Watt said Shay was a leader.
"Jordan knew how to be a friend," she said.
After choosing not to go to college and working at a variety of jobs, Shay enrolled in the Army in 2006 and was first deployed two years ago, his aunt said. While his mother initially didn't want to see him go, he had the full support from her, his family and friends, Palmer said.
"He died for a very good reason — he died for his country. He loved his country," Palmer said. "The world is not going to be the same without him."
For Palmer's sister, Holly, Shay's mother, it's difficult to know the future that has been taken away from her.
"She will never be a grandmother," or know a daughter-in-law, Palmer said. "That is a deep loss."
Holly Shay moved to her own hometown of Newburyport recently, after Jordan Shay enrolled in the Army. He grew up in Amesbury on Old County Road and attended public schools in that town.
Former neighbor John Edmands, who lives at 6 Old County Road, remembered Shay yesterday as a "nice kid."
"He was very kind and helpful," he said, adding that Shay was always out and about playing with other neighborhood kids.
His mother did "an exceptional job" raising Shay, Edmands said.
When Shay first enlisted, Edmands said he went to a going-away party his mother threw for him at Salisbury Beach State Reservation where Shay had worked.
Edmands said he was surprised to hear Shay had signed up for the Army.
"It was completely out of the blue," adding that the former vegetarian went out to buy a cheese-steak sandwich to prepare for his deployment.
Services have not yet been announced. Amesbury Veterans Services Officer Kristen LaRue said since Shay lived and went to school in Amesbury, Amesbury and Newburyport veterans agencies will work together in any funeral arrangements or services planned for Shay.