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West Orange Times & Observer Wednesday, Aug. 24, 2022 3 months ago

West Orange community honors its hero, supports Fitzgibbon family

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Foundation Academy held a candlelight vigil and Windermere organized a processional through town to honor fallen U.S. Army 1st Lt. Evan Patrick Fitzgibbon.
by: Amy Quesinberry Community Editor

It was natural for Evan Fitzgibbon to be outdoors from the time he was a young boy — whether it was engaging in slingshot wars and swimming with his friends in his childhood, playing high school football, hanging out at the family hunting camp or training at United States Army Ranger School in Georgia.

Fitzgibbon, 23, grew up in Windermere and was living out his lifelong dream when he died Aug. 9 during a Ranger School weather-induced training exercise at Yonah Mountain, near Dahlonega, Georgia. Five Ranger candidates were struck by a falling tree, and Fitzgibbon and Staff Sgt. George Taber were killed.

Fitzgibbon was an infantry officer assigned to the Infantry Basic Officer Leader Course, 199th Infantry “Leader Brigade” at Fort Benning, officials said in a Facebook statement. He was a graduate of the United States Military Academy at West Point and commissioned in May 2021. 

At the time of his death, Fitzgibbon held the rank of second lieutenant. He was posthumously promoted to first lieutenant and recognized as a graduate of the prestigious U.S. Army Ranger School.

Fitzgibbon had dreamed of attending West Point since the third grade. He also enrolled in the Civil Air Patrol — an auxiliary of the U.S. Air Force — and worked his way up the ranks. He earned the Billy Mitchell Award, given to Civil Air Patrol cadets who complete the second phase of the cadet program, and eventually became a commander.

“It’s just surreal — now that I’ve gotten into the school of my dreams,” Fitzgibbon told the Observer of his West Point acceptance in 2017. “I know what to expect, but I don’t know what God has planned for me there. But the main thing that I hope to accomplish is to just be developed into the best leader that I can be.”

 

A COMMUNITY REMEMBERS

Foundation Academy honored Fitzgibbon Tuesday, Aug. 16, with a candlelight vigil that brought the community together in a time of mourning. Several people spoke during the program, including FA president Dave Buckles, former football coach Brad Lord, and pastors Keith Yarbrough and Renaut Van Der Riet.

The Foundation Academy football team and many folks in the community attended the candlelight vigil at the school. The Fitzgibbons, seated in center, said they are grateful for the tremendous support.

“Evan loved God, Evan loved his family, and Evan loved his country,” Buckles said. “And we’re here to celebrate that tonight.”

Coach Lord said Fitzgibbon committed 100% to everything from school to football.

“He had high standards,” he said. “To see him blossom, grow, as a young man, as a teammate, as a student. … Evan Fitz is up there looking after us, protecting us, praying for us and watching over us. He is a true warrior, and this community outpour just is a testimony to the young man. … He overachieved, he came, and he brought his time on every play, every test and every relationship that he developed here at Foundation Academy.”

Yarborough taught an apologetics class Fitzgibbon’s senior year, and he said the two had conversations about one particular article Yarborough handed out.

“After class he walked up to me and said, ‘Pastor Keith, I never thought about that before. … Truth is a person, not a concept, not an idea,’” Yarborough said. “And then he said … ‘That changes everything in my relationship with truth and my relationship with Jesus.’ It produced an ‘aha’ moment for Evan, and it was also a transitional moment for our conversations.”

Van Der Riet said the chaplain who was on the mountain with the Rangers when the accident happened shared with the family that after Fitzgibbon’s death, many of the soldiers who knew him came forward and wanted to know more about his life.

“We will take cue from Evan’s life and his death, and we will live our lives for God and stand for what is good and right,” Van Der Riet said. “We are better for knowing him.”

Braswell, a civilian aide to the secretary of the Army for state of Florida, is a longtime friend of the family and has been with the Fitzgibbons in mourning.

“I come here to celebrate the life of a warrior,” Braswell said. “Evan didn’t die in vain. Evan died, according to his father, doing what Evan wanted to do. … He championed his life on the field and standing in the gap of this great nation.”

Cindy and John Fitzgibbon thanked the community for its overwhelming support.

Fitzgibbon's parents, John and Cindy Fitzgibbon, also thanked the community for its compassion and support in the days following their son’s death.

“As we were driving here tonight, I was reminded that I always said it takes a village to raise a child, and this school was part of that village,” Cindy Fitzgibbon said. “Evan was the man he was today because of all the teachers and the village of the school.”

“One of the most difficult things in life is when you surpass your children,” John Fitzgibbon said. “I was so blessed to spend 23 unbelievably quality years with my son. … We were blessed to have those moments as a father and as a mother and honored for that glory from God to come through us. And Evan’s class motto as he graduated from West Point was, ‘Until the battle is won, Class of 2021.’ And tonight, we stand victorious with him and his battle was won. Because I know, I know where my son is.”

“It's always hard to lose one of our own, but we hope the stories of Evan's faith and influence helped ease the pain for his family, his fellow soldiers and his former classmates,” Foundation Academy officials wrote on the school’s Facebook page the day after the vigil.

 

SEA OF RED, WHITE AND BLUE

Downtown Windermere was a sea of red, white and blue Wednesday afternoon, Aug. 17, as the town, residents and friends lined Maguire Road in Windermere with American flags large and small. From Sixth Avenue to Windermere Elementary School, they all gathered to show support and pay their respects to Fitzgibbon.

Police officers escorted the Fitzgibbon family through downtown Windermere, while friends and residents honored them with a sea of American flags.

John and Cindy Fitzgibbon were at Orlando International Airport when the body of their 23-year-old son was brought home. The hearse, carrying Fitzgibbon and his family, drove through the town on its way to Woodlawn Funeral Home & Memorial Park.

Windermere police officers provided an escort. Black and gold ribbons — representing the colors of the U.S. Military Academy — hung from trees along the road.

Several families from the Fitzgibbons’ neighborhood stood along the street to honor them.

Amanda Lewis, one of the family’s neighbors, said she came “to show the family some support and to show they are loved and not forgotten, to help them feel a little bit less alone.”

Gina Draper, a family friend, was there, as many were, to pay tribute “to Evan and his family,” she said.

 

A BEST MAN

Many of Fitzgibbon’s friends attended the vigil and processional, including Daniel Theisen, who was going to be the best man when Evan and his fiancée, Anna Fabry, were married following his graduation from Ranger School.

The two were inseparable ever since they met as toddlers when the Fitzgibbons moved in the neighborhood — and Theisen has many fond memories of their friendship.

“We have been best friends for about 21 years,” Theisen said. “We grew up outdoors. We weren’t really indoor kids. … We would take his mom’s bike and attach ropes to it and attach RipStiks to it. We would do sling shot wars, (hang out) in his treehouse. … He had a dog named Dixie and the dog would run around the pool. Evan would be on one side, and I would be on the other. … Dixie would barrel around the pool to try to get to us.”

Theisen will always remember the time he,Fi tzgibbon and two other friends were sitting in a tree at the family hunting camp and Theisen’s branch broke, sending him flipping toward the ground.

“Evan had tears rolling down his face he was laughing so hard,” he said.

“We also took our slingshots and shot acorns at each other,” Theisen said. “He ran out of acorns and ran around the corner. … I shot him on his butt, and it left a quarter-size welt. I asked him all the time, ‘Does your butt still hurt from where I shot you with the acorn?’

“All of my fondest memories are either borderline getting injured or hurting each other,” Theisen said with a laugh.

 

JUST GETTING HIS CAREER STARTED

Kurt Gies, commander of American Legion Post 63, in Winter Garden, remembered Fitzgibbon as an outstanding Boys State delegate who excelled when he attended the program in Washington, D.C., in 2016.

“When he came back, (he) gave the post an overview of what (he) did,” Gies said. “He was elected senator, which is a big deal. It confirmed his character and his commitment to his community and the government and getting involved. People gravitated to him.

“Evan had the desire to go to one of the service academies and chose West Point,” Gies said. “He graduated from that program 2021 and was just getting his career started.”

Gies said he was informed the U.S. Army was promoting Fitzgibbon to first lieutenant.

“The Army doesn’t typically do some of the things they do in Evan’s case,” he said. “You usually get that promotion around the two-year point, and he was nowhere near that point.

“They made the decision to go ahead and graduate him from the Army Ranger Program,” Gies said. “The whole point of the program is to get through it, and to think that they still gave him that is a big deal. He did not complete the program, but they felt it was important that they recognize him as a Ranger School graduate. I have to believe it has everything to do with his character and who he was.

“They felt he was worthy of that distinction,” Gies said.

Fitzgibbon’s father told Gies, “It’s funny; now all his classmates have to salute him.”

The Winter Garden post sent about 10 legionnaires to the airport last week to see the Fitzgibbon family off as they flew to Georgia to collect their son’s belongings.

“It turned out to be one of the coolest things we’ve done in a long time,” Gies said. “It was a very personal moment. … (It’s incredible) the loop of people that Evan touched (through) his connection across the Christian community and the military community and the school community.”

 

EVAN’S IMPACT VIDEO

McKinley Wilken, one of Fitzgibbon’s childhood friends, came up with the idea of creating a memorial video. Friends can make a 30-second clip of themselves, sharing photos and talking about Fitzgibbon and what he meant to them. The video should be recorded in landscape mode with minimal background noise and good lighting.

The deadline to upload a video to bit.ly/3dwuY28 is Aug. 31.

“Someone at Foundation Academy has capabilities to put those videos into one long video so the family can watch later and see people say how they knew Evan and how he impacted their life,” Gies said. “‘This kid was amazing, and if you didn’t know what your son did, this is what he did.’ … I can’t imagine how precious that will be to them.”

 

EVAN PATRICK FITZGIBBON
NOV. 10, 1998 — AUG. 9, 2022

PROMOTION: Posthumously, Evan has been promoted to first lieutenant and recognized as a graduate of the prestigious United States Army Ranger school.

Evan Patrick Fitzgibbon, 23, of Windermere, died Tuesday, Aug. 9, 2022. He was born Nov. 10, 1998, in Orlando, to John Patrick Fitzgibbon and Cynthia Renee Waller Fitzgibbon. He grew up with his older sister, Sophia Grace Fitzgibbon, in Windermere.

He attended Family Christian School and Foundation Academy, where he met the love of his life, Anna Judith Fabry. Evan proposed to Anna April 16, and they were waiting to set a wedding date once he completed Ranger School.

Evan always dreamed of being a soldier and aspired to attend West Point, United States Military Academy, and go to Ranger School. God opened that door for him May 22, 2021. He graduated West Point as a second lieutenant with a Bachelor of Science degree. Evan branched Infantry, and upon graduation, he was stationed at Fort Benning to complete training. He was the company commander of his Infantry Basic Officer Leader Course. He began Ranger School in June.

Posthumously, Evan has been promoted to first lieutenant and recognized as a graduate of the prestigious United States Army Ranger school.

One of Evan’s favorite scriptures is Proverbs 21:31 — “The horse is made ready for the day of battle, but the victory belongs to the Lord.”

Evan loved people deeply and lived life fully in his 23 years here on earth. He devoted much of his young life to his military aspirations in serving his country, but he also had many passions, talents and gifts. He loved football, Civil Air Patrol, hunting, fishing and music. Evan was a musician at heart and left behind many songs he created.

Evan’s fun-loving nature and sense of humor; his strong faith and love for God; his deep love of people, family and friends; and his passion and dedication in serving his country will not be forgotten.

Evan is survived by his fiancee, Anna Judith Fabry; parents, John and Cynthia Fitzgibbon; sister and brother-in-law, Sophia Fitzgibbon Reyes and Alberto Reyes, and their daughters, paternal grandmother, Dianne Fitzgibbon; and maternal grandparents, Joseph and Norma Waller.

Woodlawn Funeral Home & Memorial Park is in charge of arrangements.

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Amy Quesinberry is the community editor of the West Orange Times & Observer and the Windermere Observer. She was born and raised in Winter Garden, grew up reading the community newspaper and has been employed there as a writer, photographer and editor since 1990....

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