Click photo to enlarge
Lance Cpl. Sara CastroMata, of Oakley, is honored at an Operation Creekside event in March 2012. She was there to help put together care packages at Gracie's in Brentwood.(Courtesy of Jeanette Williams)

OAKLEY -- The tidy, two-story home on White Oak Court was busy over the weekend as visitors paid their respects to the family of the U.S. Marine fatally shot by a fellow soldier last week.

Lance Cpl. Sara CastroMata, 19, of Oakley, was gunned down along with Cpl. Jacob Wooley, of Mississippi, on Thursday at a Marine Corps base in Virginia. Marine Corps officials say Sgt. Eusebio Lopez fired the fatal shots and later killed himself. The shooting remains under investigation.

Those who knew 19-year-old Sara CastroMata say she was a bubbly spirit who exuded optimism.

Although boot camp doesn't offer the kind of down time it takes to forge deep relationships, CastroMata, a 2011 Liberty High School graduate, made an impression on fellow soldiers in her platoon.

"She was very, very positive," said Melina Abreu, who met CastroMata during boot camp on Parris Island, S.C., and considered her one of her best friends.

"She was always like a rock. No matter if she was having a crappy day, she would just make it better for all of us. She cheered us all up. She would make us see the brighter picture."

When others struggled with being far from family and adjusting to the physical rigors of training, CastroMata would strengthen their resolve by reminding them that they were on their way to becoming Marines and of the rewards that would follow, Abreu said.

According to Abreu, CastroMata had dated Wooley for only a few months.


Advertisement

"He treated her really, really nicely," Abreu said. "She was happy that she found someone who treated her the way she was supposed to be treated."

One of those who responded to the stress with tears was Genesis Montero, who recalls her friend cheering her up with jokes and telling her that if she just stuck with it she'd travel and "do amazing things" in life.

Even after CastroMata graduated from boot camp, she stayed in touch with Abreu through letters and would send her care packages of things like socks ("things we always needed but never had"). On one occasion, she included Reese's Peanut Butter Cups even though chocolate is a no-no for Marines in training and included a photo of her in uniform with a note saying she was "waiting for (me) on the other side," Abreu said.

CastroMata also demonstrated her thoughtfulness by offering a compassionate ear.

"She seemed like the kind of person that would listen to you and let you vent," said Destiny Alexander, who discussed with CastroMata her disappointment after discovering she was pregnant and would be discharged from the Corps.

Lance Cpl. Sara CastroMata, of Oakley, is honored at an Operation Creekside event in March 2012. At left is Ray Ansick of the Marine Corps League. She was
Lance Cpl. Sara CastroMata, of Oakley, is honored at an Operation Creekside event in March 2012. At left is Ray Ansick of the Marine Corps League. She was there to help put together care packages at Gracie's in Brentwood. The man at left is unidentified. (Courtesy of Jeanette Williams)

And CastroMata listened without criticism.

"She wasn't judgmental. She just listened ... and tried to help you out the best way she possibly could," Abreu said.

When life got CastroMata down, she embraced the military ethos by putting on a brave face, preferring to talk the situation over privately with a friend or two.

"She wouldn't be like other girls and break down and cry," said Erika Garcia, speaking from Marine Corps Air Station Miramar. "She wouldn't announce it to the whole platoon that she wasn't feeling well."

The adventure of being able to see other parts of the world appealed to this young woman whose first tattoo was a feather interwoven with the words, "One day I'll fly away."

Montero, now stationed in Yuma, Ariz., recalls CastroMata's recent excitement over the possibility of being deployed to Austria, and says enlisting in the U.S. Marines was a dream come true for her friend.

She considered the military branch "the best, the most elite -- the Devil Dogs," she said.

Abreu agrees. "She wanted to make a mark and the best way to is to go big or go home."

Funeral arrangements are still pending.

Contact Rowena Coetsee at 925-779-7141. Follow her at Twitter.com/RowenaCoetsee. Eve Mitchell and Paul Burgarino contributed to this report.