Tracy Miller, worried about her 22-year-old son fighting in Fallujah, told his former high school history teacher Friday that she appreciated his prayers.
Yesterday morning, family friends received an e-mail from Miller with the subject line "worst possible news."
"Two Marines came to my door last night to tell me Nick had been killed," the Towson University English professor wrote.
Marine Cpl. Nicholas Lee Ziolkowski of Towson, a 2001 graduate of Boys' Latin School, became the 17th person from Maryland to die in fighting in Iraq, and the third in less than a week. The others are Marine Lance Cpl. David M. Branning, 21, of Cockeysville and Army Spc. Thomas K. Doerflinger, 20, of Silver Spring.
Department of Defense officials announced last night that Ziolkowski had died but did not say when or where.
Ziolkowski was a team leader and scout sniper, said his family members, who gathered yesterday at his mother's Towson home. They said they did not know the details of his death, but they believe he had led his squad into heavy combat several times in Fallujah before he was lost.
Family and friends remembered Ziolkowski as an intensely patriotic young man, one who began planning for his military service in ninth grade and left for active duty in the Marines the morning after high-school graduation. They said he firmly believed he could help make the world a better place.
"He loved his country more than any person I know that age," said Baltimore City Councilman Keiffer J. Mitchell Jr., who taught Ziolkowski and his older brother Peter U.S. history at Boys' Latin. "I don't think I could be any prouder of Nick."
In a written statement, Miller described her son as "charismatic, caring and sensitive, making friends wherever he went." Ziolkowski's father, Andrew, said in the statement that his captain "wanted 10 more guys like Nick."
Ziolkowski ran several miles every day and worked out constantly to get in the best shape possible for military service, his family said.
At 17, he completed the Navy Seal Odyssey program, the 24-hour version of the Navy's "Hell Week," according to the family's statement. He finished in the top 10 among several hundred participants and was the youngest finisher.
According to the Department of Defense, Ziolkowski was assigned to the Camp Lejeune, N.C.-based 1st Battalion, 8th Marine Regiment, 2nd Marine Division, II Marine Expeditionary Force.
Ziolkowski and his close friend, fellow Marine Mark Engel, dreamed of coming home safely together and opening a surf shop in Cancun, according to the family. That dream was shattered in July when Engel, a Colorado resident, died of wounds received in Iraq's Anbar province.
Ziolkowski was scheduled to return home in February, and he planned to attend college at Towson University, the family said.
At Boys' Latin, Ziolkowski was captain of the cross-country team his senior year, said Leslie Heubeck, a school spokeswoman. After graduation, he often returned to Boys' Latin in uniform to speak to students taking military history classes.
"I let him teach the whole class," said military history teacher Butch Maisel. "The kids were spellbound. ... He really seemed to love what he was doing."
Maisel said he has fond memories of Ziolkowski as a student who always sat in the front row "within striking distance, I used to tease him," Maisel said. "He was like that -the kind of guy you could tease and he'd go right along with it."
At a school where most students go on to college immediately after graduation, "people respected his decision to join the Marines," Maisel said. "When he came back, he always drew a crowd."
Ziolkowski's family, which includes two brothers and a sister, said he will be buried Nov. 24 at Arlington National Cemetery. The family will receive visitors from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. today through Thursday at 8221 Ruxton Crossing Court in Towson.