Local News

Jerry Avant Jr.

Posted April 1, 2009 2:10 p.m. EDT
Updated April 1, 2009 2:55 p.m. EDT

Former U.S. Coast Guard member Jerry Avant’s tenderness and love for the elderly inspired him to become a nurse and give back to those who gave so much in their lives.

Avant, 39, had planned in August to marry his girlfriend, Jill DeGarmo. They lived in Carthage, and both were working Sunday at Pinelake Health and Rehab Center.

DeGarmo said she was in a room with patients when the shooting began, rushing out to see Avant as soon as the firing stopped. She said he asked her to pray with him before paramedics took him to the hospital, where doctors told her his heart stopped twice before he died during surgery.

"I know he didn't want to die," she told CBS News' "The Early Show" Monday morning. "And his biggest concern was praying. He wanted me to pray with him, and he wanted – even if this was going to be it for him – he wanted to get his last moments in with God."

Avant's father, Jerry W. Avant, said his son served in the Coast Guard for about 10 years, decided to try nursing and "got into it."

A neighbor and fishing buddy, Carl Williams, said Avant loved his nursing job, had taken a course to further his career and had an exam coming up. "Jerry had a big heart," Williams said. "He found good in everybody."

Services will be held at 2 p.m. Thursday, April 2, at Freedom Baptist Church in Rockingham. Interment with military honors will follow in Richmond County Memorial Park.

The family will receive friends from 6 - 9 p.m. Wednesday at Russell-Marks Funeral Home in Rockingham.

Memorials in his honor may be made to St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital, 501 St. Jude Place, Memphis, TN 38105-1942.