WESTFIELD, Mass. (WWLP)– As details of the search and ultimate fate of Lt. Col. Morris Fontenot Jr. were announced, the community around Barnes Air National Guard Base began to shift from hope to devastation. 22News spoke to some of those grieving Westfield residents.
Nicholina Figueroa grew up across from the Barnes Air National Guard base. “I love hearing the jets take off everyday. They’re loud and it’s a sign of freedom,” she told 22News.
But that feeling of pride and freedom turned to deep sadness Friday morning in Westfield as residents woke up to the news that the missing 104th fighter wing pilot had not survived Wednesday’s jet crash.
Another longtime Westfield resident, Peter Styckiewicz shook his head with grief as he spoke. “It’s a tragedy. It’s like how could this happen? Was there a mechanical error,” he said.
Heart break was also felt throughout the day by the men and women who work at Barnes Air National Guard Base and by the fellow pilots of the 104th Fighter Wing.
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Major Matthew Mutti, a spokesman for the 104th told 22News that the death of Lt. Col. Morris Fontenot Jr. is a reminder that the work they do is dangerous but that it demonstrates the closeness of their military family.
He also said their focus now is on taking care of the family of Lt. Col. Fontenot Jr. while they try and cope with this devastating loss.
Many people in Westfield told 22News they hope the family knows how much the community is thinking about them.
Kim Coles, from Westfield, had this message for the family, “That everybody here in Westfield is there for them and if they need any support, you know, we’re here.”
Aurelio Sanchez, also from Westfield, said, “Sympathies and condolences are out there to the family, because we know that they’re here to do a good job and keep people safe, you know that’s what it’s all about.”
The 104th told 22News Lt. Col. Fontenot’s commitment to service is how his family hopes he will be remembered.