Saturday, January 31, 2004

Blast claims Bellevue's 'tough kid'

By William Croyle and Emily Hagedorn
Enquirer contributors

BELLEVUE - Justin Scott wasted no time writing back to his little sister's eighth-grade social studies classmates after they sent a bundle of letters to him in Afghanistan last November.

"I hope to hear from you guys again soon," he wrote. "I'm in good hands."

The 110 students won't likely forget him, their teacher said.

Mike Skeen, of Villa Hills, with photos of his nephew, Justin Scott, 23, of Bellevue, a soldier who was killed in an explosion at a weapons cache in Afghanistan.
(Patrick Reddy photo)
Justin, 22, was killed Thursday afternoon in an explosion at a weapons cache near Ghazni in southeastern Afghanistan. It was the deadliest day for American troops since the end of the Taliban regime. Six other soldiers were killed, three were wounded and one has been listed as missing.

According to news reports, Afghan officials have called the explosion an accident, but investigators are probing the possibility that the cache was booby-trapped.

Justin graduated from Bellevue High School in 2000 and joined the U.S. Army in October that year. He was part of the 10th Mountain Division at Fort Drum in New York. He was due to come home from Afghanistan in May and to be discharged in October.

He had a job lined up with the Covington Fire Department and was going to marry his fiance, Kristen Menkhaus, on a Florida beach on July 28.

"The whole family was going to go down there. He loved her so much," said his step-mother, Lisa Scott. Lisa and Justin's father, William, watched family videos with a house full of family and friends Friday afternoon in what Lisa called a celebration of Justin's life.

"He loved his friends and he loved life, and his friends are here doing exactly what he would have wanted them to do," she said.

The family received the news of Justin's death at 12:15 a.m.Friday. Bellevue High social studies teacher Chuck Grant found out at school about 10 a.m. after he noticed Justin's sister, Samantha, was absent. He then broke the news to his students.

"You could have heard a pin drop when I told them," said Grant. "There were a lot of tears." Grant said the letter Justin sent to the kids was 3 1/2 pages long. "It was really neat getting that letter, but the kids saw the reality of it today."

B.J. Shockney was Justin's defensive line coach at Bellevue when Justin was in eighth and ninth grades.

"He was always excited and always had his motor running," said Shockney. "He asked a lot of questions, stayed after practice for extra work and was always in the weight room. Anything you needed, he would do."

His high school varsity coach, Chuck Coleman, agreed with Shockney's assessment of Justin: "I think that's how he'll be remembered as far as Tiger football goes," said Coleman, fighting back tears. "He was a tough kid. He had no fear."

Greg Duell graduated with Justin. He said they remained friends after high school and hung out together when Justin would come home from the service.

"He was one of the nicest guys you'd ever meet," said Duell. "He would always do anything for anybody."

Justin's uncle Mike Skeen is a Covington firefighter and was eager to work with his nephew this spring. He was looking at pictures scattered on his dinner table Friday afternoon through tears.

"It's a nightmare,'' he said. "I'm waiting for someone to wake me up."

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