CARROLLTON - A thousand white balloons filled the sky high above Dan F. Long Middle School Thursday in Carrollton.
It was all part of a tribute to Sgt. Carlos Benitez, an Army solider who died earlier this month in Afghanistan. Benitez, a former student at the school, was killed when insurgents attacked his unit.
"He was a good kid, a good father, a good son and a good husband," said Imelda Castillo, the fallen soldier's mother, while talking to the crowd.
A decade ago, Benitez was a 14-year-old student at the middle school. He played nose guard on the football team, and his coach remembers him fondly.
"When you spend so much time together, it's almost like they are your sons," he said. "I was feeling [his mother's] pain today and it's been a real emotional week."
The football coach broke down as he hugged Castillo.
"Thank you for loving him so much," she whispered to him. "You made him a better person, a better man."
Benitez leaves behind a wife and two young children.
His family received a set of personalized teddy bears from the school as a memento. In thanking the crowd, Castillo said her son always wanted to be a soldier.
"It is something he really wanted, to be remembered as a hero," she said.