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Mourners try to make sense of Marine sergeant's death

Sgt. Manuel Loggins Jr., shot by an O.C. deputy, is honored at Camp Pendleton.

February 25, 2012|By Christopher Goffard, Los Angeles Times
  • Marine honor guard members fire a 21-gun salute for Sgt. Manuel L. Loggins Jr. at a memorial ceremony at the chapel at Camp Pendleton.
Marine honor guard members fire a 21-gun salute for Sgt. Manuel L. Loggins… (Cpl. Victor Corro / U.S.…)

Some described the big-shouldered Marine's soft way of talking, others the discipline he expected from his troops. All spoke of the religious faith he wore as openly as his uniform.

"He wasn't the kind of guy that went to church on Sunday and on Monday was out raising hell," said Nils Bjorn, a civilian who worked with Sgt. Manuel L. Loggins Jr. at Camp Pendleton. "He was a religious guy who put his family first."

Of Loggins' death earlier this month, he added: "It does seem kind of senseless."

Late Friday afternoon, friends and fellow Marines gathered to salute one of their own, fatally shot in a darkened high school parking lot by an Orange County Sheriff's deputy.

The shooting is under investigation, and details of the early-morning incident remain sketchy. But already sides appear to have been drawn: Loggins' family has retained the Cochran Firm in Los Angeles; the deputy is being represented by noted criminal defense attorney Paul S. Meyer.

According to the department's version, Loggins crashed through a gate at the parking lot, walked into the darkness of a nearby athletic field, then returned to his SUV and ignored orders not to start the car.

The department initially said Deputy Darren Sandberg shot Loggins in fear for himself, but changed its account to say the veteran deputy — a former Marine himself — feared for the safety of Loggins' two young daughters, who were in the SUV.

Loggins regularly took his family to the high school track for early-morning prayer walks. His friends say the official version of his death makes little sense.

At the memorial service, James Webb, a former Marine who served with Loggins, said his colleague inspired others to be "a better father, a better Marine and generally a better person."

Webb told the story of a Marine who was about to head into town looking for trouble when his cellphone buzzed. It was Loggins, expressing concern. "I couldn't get you off my mind," Loggins told him, and reminded him to uphold the standards of the Marine Corps.

Webb said Loggins, a physical fitness enthusiast, was always eager to help others with health and diet tips.

Loggins, he said, had "a heart that is so big and so empathetic, he cared for everyone he came into contact with."

Major Chris Cox, Loggins' supervisor at the base, said the sergeant was such a dedicated Marine that he would often stay late "just to help a wayward unit that had failed to plan properly."

Cpl. Crystal Stein, 22, who served with Loggins at Camp Pendleton and saw him the day before he died, said she was surprised when she met Loggins.

"How can a Marine be so soft-spoken, because Marines are usually so loud and aggressive?" she said she asked herself once.

The memorial service focused on the positive memories Loggins left behind, but among those who gathered, there was an undercurrent of anger and frustration.

"A travesty," one Marine said of the situation.

"It's just stupid," said another, shaking his head. "Stupid."

After the eulogies, there was a 21-gun salute outside the base chapel. A folded flag was handed to Loggins' widow, Phoebe.

"Everybody that knew Manny knows that something doesn't seem right," Bjorn said after the memorial. "There wasn't a mean bone in his body."

christopher.goffard@latimes.com

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