CHESTERFIELD COUNTY, Va. -- Sonja Stoeckli never wants her son Kyle to be forgotten.
“He smiled all of the time,” the Brandermill mother said. “He was a true light.”
When Kyle was in middle school, he vowed to join the military. He kept that promise.
“He knew what he wanted,” Sonja said.
In 2010, he accelerated his studies at Cosby High School and graduated after his junior year.
He went from student to soldier within weeks.
He was sent to Afghanistan where Specialist Stoeckli thrived.
“I was never scared he would never come back. I wasn’t scared,” Sonja said.
Near the end of his tour, Kyle called his mother.
“He said my bags are packed and they are being shipped home tomorrow,” she remembered.
Days later, on June 1, 2013, the 21-year-old soldier was killed when his patrol was attacked.
“He either stepped on or fell onto an explosive and it killed him right away,” Sonja said.
Back in Virginia, there was a knock at the door.
“When I saw the two military men there I knew,” she said.
In the years after her only son’s death, Sonja maintained Kyle’s memorial garden right outside her front door.
“I’m a nature girl. I’ve always liked nature things,” Sonja said. “He would probably bring me a pebble or stone every day.”
In 2015, just a short drive from his garden, Chesterfield County named a bridge spanning Swift Creek Reservoir in his honor.
It's a bridge many teens use to reach Cosby.
At the high school, Kyle's gregarious nature still resonated with his former educators.
English teacher Richard Dailey said Kyle’s death rocked the hallways.
“I think there is a lot that students can learn characterize wise what Kyle was like,” Dailey said. “It is important to remember a kid like Kyle because he is the type of kid you wish every kid would be like.”
Kyle’s legacy will be a teachable moment.
A display case is dedicated to the former Titan complete with Kyle’s uniform, purple heart, and dog tags.
Art teacher Susan Lamson said Kyle inspired staff and students.
“I have a hard time talking about him in the past because I still think he is still here,” Ms. Lamson said. "He was a go-getter. Anything he did in life he put everything he had into it."
Lamson said the artifacts will keep Kyle’s memory fresh.
“It is important that we remember Kyle. He hasn’t been gone that long, but he will remain,” Lamson said.
Reassuring words for Kyle’s mother who carries a heavy heart. It is comfort knowing her son’s legacy is in safe hands.
“He truly was an amazing young man from the moment he was born,” Sonja said.
This story originally aired on May 17, 2018.
Greg McQuade features local heroes in a weekly “Heroes Among Us” segment. Watch Greg’s reports Thursdays on CBS News at 6 or here on WTVR.com. If you would like to nominate someone to be featured on “Heroes Among Us,” click here to email firstname.lastname@example.org.
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