My nephew, Patrick Lay, was killed in action today in Afghanistan. Born and raised in Bradenton. Thank you for your time.
With little else to work from, reporter Lee Williams started some furious digging. He quickly tracked down -- via Facebook -- that it was painfully true.
As Williams and photographer Grant Jefferies began reaching out to the family, we were humbled by their response. Spc. 4 Lay's mom, Stefenie Hernandez, his fiancee Joann Steiff, his sister Nikki and countless other relatives and friends opened their door and their hearts to us -- out of deep respect, pain, loss and love of their lost soldier.
Grant's photo of Patrick's mom, above, lost in thought outside her home, speaks that proverbial thousands of words. We have been "lucky" in Manatee County for the past several years, as the war hasn't taken a direct hit in claiming the life of one of our own. This was a painful reminder of how much so many have given.
And it stirred fears and prayers in all who were touched by the news. We found an article and photos by Stars and Stripes, and wanted to share this one with our readers. The photo by Laura Rauch/Stars and Stripes shows Spc. Lay sitting on a vehicle as the sun sets over Combat Outpost Nalgham, Afghanistan on May 21. Editors there gave us permission to publish, in exchange for two copies of the Herald with the photograph. In sending Herald photographer Tiffany Tompkins-Condie the OK, administrator Jen Stepp wrote:
You’re so very welcome. As I was processing your request I just became so very sad that here we have a soldier doing his duty and his photo appearing in the paper just a couple months ago to him having been killed today. My most sincere condolences go out to his family and those he served with.
And when I sent Williams' story and Jefferies' photographs to McClatchy-Tribune News Services for national publication, the Washington editor replied:
He reminds me of my best friend’s nephew who's going to Afghanistan in January. I hope I don’t read anything like this about him.
Say a prayer for all our troops to return home, safe and alive.