AIKEN - Grief can limit the vocabulary, tying people who loved victims of the R.E. Phelon Co. shootings to the same words, uttered over and over Tuesday.
Tragic. Senseless. A waste.
"It's a senseless waste of life of a beautiful lady," said Wyanette Evans, a friend of Esther Sheryl Wood.
Ms. Wood, Ernest Leonard Filyaw, David Wayne Moore and Charles Griffith died Monday from gunshot wounds after a man opened fire inside the manufacturing plant. Three others were wounded, but survived.
Now the people closest to the victims begin the painful process of offering goodbyes that come too early.
Prettiest eyes in world
Sheryl Wood, 27, had a simple goal. "Getting a piece of land and a trailer of her own," said Rose Hayes, a friend. "She thought she was old enough for that."
Her youth was notable Tuesday as her family chose the clothes she will be buried in on Thursday. Ms. Wood, a "hard worker" in Phelon's quality assurance office, was shot three times and found dead in a back parking lot.
"She loved her family to death," Ms. Hayes said.
Friends loved her smile, a grin as constant as her ability on ball fields was diverse. Ms. Wood, "one of the ones the team could depend on," played basketball, volleyball and softball at Midland Valley High School, graduating in 1988, said guidance director Sally Jennings.
Her smile stood out, lighting up eyes an unforgettable shade of turquoise blue - the prettiest eyes in the world, Ms. Evans said.
"She had the oddest color blue eyes. I had never seen anything like them," Ms. Evans said.
Ms. Wood listed those eyes as her best feature in her senior yearbook, a volume of living memories turned overnight into a book honoring the dead. Myra Moseley, her former volleyball coach, opened that book late Monday to remember a friend.
"She would give her best at anything she tried," Ms. Moseley said.
Funeral instead of wedding
Leonard Filyaw, 30, was a quiet person who had happiness in his life before it ended Monday.
The Warrenville man got engaged to girlfriend Denise Burton within the last two weeks, said his brother-in-law, Bobby Strait. Rather than continue with wedding plans, the Filyaw family had to plan a Thursday funeral, asking to be left alone in the meantime.
The family was in disbelief, coping with the pain and sadness of their loss, said a cousin who gave his name only as Al. The Filyaws mourned a man whose hobbies were firearms and family trees as a single, white-bow wreath hung from the mailbox across the street.
"All I know is he was a real nice guy." Mr. Strait said. "He stayed to himself. He was a collector of guns. He used to go out to the shooting range and stuff like that. And he liked to play on the computer a lot."
Mr. Filyaw, a member of the Augusta and Aiken genealogical societies, worked at Phelon for five years. Police said he was found dead in the tool-and-die area of the plant, shot once.
A legacy of tragedy
David Moore, 30, also had marriage in his future, with plans to wed fiancee Kim Newton in March.
He wanted to be a father more than anything, but decided to wait until he could buy a house and other things that would provide a stable home life, his aunt, Ruth Stephens, said Tuesday.
"He was such a sweet and beautiful person," Ms. Stephens said.
But Mr. Moore's life was marked by tragedy. One of his uncles was murdered, execution-style, 11 years ago and another uncle was shot in the head and left for dead this past January. Neither case has been solved, Ms. Stephens said.
Mr. Moore worked at Phelon for six years.
His brother, John Goad, also works at Phelon and didn't want to leave the plant Monday without him. Mr. Goad saw blood coming from Mr. Moore's chest and mouth and tried to drag him out of the plant, but his brother's body was too heavy.
"John was going to get David, but he was too late," Ms. Stephens said.
Charles Griffith couldn't pass a co-worker without saying `Howdy.'
The 50-year-old man from Lexington, S.C., came to the Phelon plant in January as human resources director. But he acted as if he'd known his co-workers for years, they said.
Mr. Griffith was found dead in the human resources department, shot twice. His gentle and kind manner stood out in employees' minds Tuesday, as did his ability to make others laugh.
"He always took time out of his day to speak to you, whether it was a simple `Hello' or a pat on the back," said Mary Battle, a co-worker. "If he passed you 50 times, he spoke to you 50 times."
Staff Writers Chasiti Kirkland, Tracie Powell and Kathy Steele contributed to this article.
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