Jacksonville Marine among 16 killed in plane crash

Husband, father of 4 young children, was based in North Carolina

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – A Jacksonville couple said pride is mixed with grief for their son, who is one of 16 service members killed when a military transport plane crashed in Mississippi on Monday afternoon.

Sgt. Joseph Murray, 26, joined the Marines after his 2009 graduation from Sandalwood High School. Since then, he has served two tours in Afghanistan and was currently a special operations Marine based at Camp Lejeune, North Carolina.

Murray's father called him a hero, an inspiration and a loving father to his three sons and 5-year-old daughter, including twins who are 1 year old this month.

His wife, Gayle, and children live in North Carolina, where Murray was based.

Gayle Murray gave News4Jax this statement about her husband:

Everyone knew him as a family man. He would do anything for me and our kids. He loved to play his guitar and ukulele for us. What he wanted most in the world besides our happiness was to destroy evil on this earth."

Murray's father, Terry, told News4Jax that his son thought destroying evil was his calling.

"Everyone thinks their family members are special. That's natural. We really think Joseph was very special. He was a wonderful young man of God," Terry Murray said. "I said, 'Joseph, why do you want to be a grunt?' He said, 'Because that's the hardest thing there is to do.' When Joseph decided to do something, he went all in."

As a Christian, Murray lived to serve others, whether it was in the Marines, at church or simply providing a better life for his family.

"Joseph joined the military to serve, that's part of his believes as a Christian," Terry Murray said. "It had nothing to do with Joseph proving himself to be tougher or harder than somebody else. it had to do with his commitment to protect those who couldn't protect themselves."

WATCH: Full interview with Terry Murray

Murray's parents were heading to North Carolina to support their daughter-in-law and grandchildren.

"Joseph is a father and a husband (who) served his family. That's who this young man was. It was all about him serving," Murray's father said.

Representatives of the Marines meet with the family Wednesday afternoon with information about the crash and the next steps.

Anyone wishing to express their condolences can send flowers or donations to the Atlantic Beach Assembly of God, 680 Mayport Road.

Terry Murray said his son's loved ones will be running the Marine Corps Half Marathon on the family's behalf Sept. 16. Anyone who would like to contribute to their effort can visit https://www.facebook.com/13milesformurrays.

The military transport plane appears to have developed problems while high in the air, a Marine general said Wednesday.

"Indications are something went wrong at cruise altitude," Brig. Gen. Bradley S. James told reporters Wednesday in Itta Bena, Mississippi. That squares with comments from witnesses interviewed by The Associated Press who said they saw the plane descend from high altitude with an engine smoking.

The crash of the KC-130 killed nine Marines from Newburgh, New York, and six Marines and a Navy Corpsman from Camp Lejeune, James said.

James said that there is a "large debris pattern," including two main impact areas separated by a mile, with a four-lane highway in between them.

Mississippi Public Safety Commissioner Marshall Fisher repeated earlier warnings that people in the crash area shouldn't pick up any debris, which could include weapons, ammunition and evidence valuable to determining why the plane crashed.

"None of that stuff should be touched," Fisher said. "Removal of anything from the area could be subject to criminal prosecution."

Fisher, who also spoke at the news conference, said the federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, as well as federal prosecutors in northern Mississippi, are investigating reports that someone removed debris. State law enforcement agencies are guarding the area, but the broad area and number of roads makes it difficult to control access.

Fisher urged people to call the ATF at 1-800-ATF-GUNS if they find anything.

Leflore County Sheriff Ricky Banks said the debris is spread across two to three miles of farmland. He estimated Wednesday it will take investigators five or six days to sift through the wreckage and clean up the site where the plane crashed on Monday.

Six of the Marines and the sailor were from an elite Marine Raider battalion at Camp Lejeune and were headed for pre-deployment training in Yuma, Arizona, the Marine Corps said Tuesday.

Marine Maj. Andrew Aranda said Wednesday the names of those killed will not be released until 24 hours after family members are notified.

Several bouquets were left Tuesday at the main gate of Stewart Air National Guard Base in Newburgh, New York, where the plane was based. Stewart was closed to reporters and did not issue a statement.

"We're feeling the pain that everybody else is," Robert Brush said after dropping off three pots of red, white and blue petunias. He works for a landscaping company that serves the base.

It was the deadliest Marine Corps air disaster since 2005, when a transport helicopter went down during a sandstorm in Iraq, killing 30 Marines and a sailor.

The crash happened outside the small town of Itta Bena about 85 miles (135 kilometers) north of the state capital of Jackson.

The Marine Corps said the cause was under investigation and offered no information on whether the plane issued a distress call.

FBI agents joined military investigators, though Aranda told reporters no foul play was suspected.

"They are looking at the debris and will be collecting information off of that to figure out what happened," Aranda said.

The KC-130 is used to refuel aircraft in flight and transport cargo and troops.

Andy Jones said he was working on his family's catfish farm just before 4 p.m. when he heard a boom and looked up to see the plane spiraling downward with one engine smoking.

"You looked up and you saw the plane twirling around," he said. "It was spinning down."

Jones said that by the time he and others reached the crash site, fires were burning too intensely to approach the wreckage. The force of the crash nearly flattened the plane, Jones said.

Catfish farmer Will Nobile said he drove to the site and as he and others stood by a highway, they saw an open parachute wafting down from the sky: "It didn't look like anybody was in it." Another catfish farmer found an empty, open parachute later near a fish pond, Nobile said.

The Marines said the plane was carrying personal weapons and small-arms ammunition -- equipment that may have contributed to the explosion and the popping that could be heard as the wreckage burned.