Friends mourn slain contractor killed before his wedding day

STELIACOOM, Wash. -- Mike Hughes was a lot of things: A teacher, a corrections officer, a fiance, and a friend.

But he was also a friend who was gone too soon.

Friday night, the Winlock native's friends and family gathered in Steilacoom's Pioneer Orchard Park for a candlelight vigil. The tone wasn't too somber, because they said Hughes was simply too sweet and funny to let that happen.

"He picked your head up. He was there when you were down. He was a guy who had your back," said Dennis Simmons, a fellow corrections officer at McNeil Island.

Hughes was killed in a suicide bombing in Afghanistan earlier in February, just one day before he was planning to come home. He was supposed to marry his fiance' over Valentine's Day weekend.

"That is really one of the things that hurts us the most, the fact that he was getting ready to come home," said Jerry Pinero.

Hughes was using his prison experience to train the Afghans on how to properly run prisons.

"He was always dedicated in whatever he did," Pinero said.

Hughes was 38-years old when he died. Pinero and Simmons designed a fitting end to the vigil. They and other mourners lit 38 paper lanterns and let them fly into the night sky.

"He was a very loving and caring individual, but he knew when things had to be done, he could do it," Pinero said.