In early April, on the last day of their 10-day vacation in New Zealand, Christopher Willemse and his girlfriend, Sandy Casey, walked down a steep hill to a lake. As she played by the water’s edge, Willemse took a ring out of his pocket. When she turned around, he was down on one knee.
At the end of this month, they planned to tour the final wedding venue on their list. Instead, after seven years as colleagues at Manhattan Beach Middle School, three years as a couple and five months engaged, Willemse held Casey on Sunday night as she died of a gunshot to her lower back at a country music festival in Las Vegas.
Willemse, 32, worked as a behavioral therapist in Casey’s special-education classes. They bonded over their love of country music.
They were attending the festival with a few of Willemse’s friends, huddled in front of the stage, when the gunshots rang out. They all dropped to the ground, but Casey said she’d been hit and couldn’t feel her legs. Willemse stuck his finger in the hole to stop the bleeding and then carried her out, dodging the continuous gunfire.
When she stopped responding, he told her that he loved her and that she was amazing.
“She was just a kind soul and she was full of life and loved to live it,” Willemse said. “She made everybody smile, she was an excellent teacher and loved the kids she taught. Everyone who meets her never forgets her.”
Casey, who also loved yoga and the outdoors, was originally from Vermont, where her family still lives. Willemse said he’s arranging to get her body back to her parents. She wanted to be cremated, he said, so he’ll be able to keep a part of her with him.
On Facebook early Monday, Willemse wrote: “As I sit and mourn such a beautiful life gone too fast, all i can say is look up and watch the birds fly high and free today as that’s where I feel you smiling down upon all of us. I love you baby girl! Love you to pieces!”