Justin Ray Davis loved people. Growing up in Gaithersburg, he had many friends, and even hung out with the parents of his friends. As an Army infantryman in Afghanistan, the 19-year-old made sure to take lots of extra pens when he went on missions - local children often flocked to the soldiers, asking for pens to do schoolwork.
"He would play with the kids and joke around with them," said his friend and platoon mate, Spc. Michael Earner.
Last Sunday, Pfc. Davis was killed in the eastern Kunar province of Afghanistan, possibly by friendly fire, the Defense Department announced yesterday. According to the Associated Press, the U.S.-led coalition released a statement saying that it is "looking into Pfc. Davis' death to determine what happened. No final determination has been made and we will not release any information relating to the investigation till it is complete."
Friends and relatives remembered Private Davis yesterday as a vibrant person who could get along with almost anyone. "People gravitated to him," said the Rev. Barry Moultrie, youth minister at Mount Calvary Baptist Church in Rockville. "Justin was a very special young man."
Mr. Moultrie and Private Davis spent a lot of time together, and several years ago went on a two-week search mission to the rural Bahamas. "He was like a son," Mr. Moultrie said, struggling to keep his composure.
His mother, Paula Davis, said her son loved being in the military. He planned to become an Army Ranger, she said, and when he came home on leave, he often went out in his fatigues, proud to show off his affiliation. "He loved that uniform," she said of her only child.
Justin Davis graduated from Col. Zadok Magruder High School in Gaithersburg, where he played running back on the football team. He spent a year at Hargrave Military Academy in Chatham, Va., where he became increasingly captivated by the idea of military service. He joined the Army in 2005 and was assigned to the 32nd Infantry Regiment of the 10th Mountain Division, which is based in Fort Drum, N.Y.
He planned to spend four years in the Army and then attend the University of California, Los Angeles, and become an actor. "I used to tease him and say he was a man with a plan," his mother recalled.
Specialist Earner remembered that in Afghanistan, Private Davis and another friend spent much of their free time making kung fu movies. Using a digital video camera and a laptop, they cast themselves as good guys and villains, then presented the results to their friends. "He was a fun guy to be around," said Specialist Earner, who is also from Gaithersburg and is now at Fort Drum recovering from an injury suffered several months ago.
Paula Davis said the Army had told her that her son might have inadvertently been hit by friendly mortar fire. She said she had been told that he and a group of other soldiers were returning to the base after a mission and had radioed their suspicion that they were being followed.
Almost a week after being notified of his death, his mother said she is still in shock and sometimes still imagines that her son is not really gone. "I comfort myself knowing that he died doing what he loved," she said.
Private Davis will be buried July 10 at Arlington National Cemetery.
A viewing will be held Friday from 2 p.m. to 8 p.m. at Mount Calvary Baptist Church, 608 North Horners Lane, Rockville. On Saturday, at the Inter-Denominational Church of God, 19201 Woodfield Road, in Gaithersburg, another viewing will be held from 10 a.m. to 11 a.m., followed by a funeral service.