|From The Arizona Republic azcentral.com
Man dead for days near Loop 101 lived life of service
Alexa N. D'Angelo, The Republic | azcentral.com 2 p.m. MST March 16, 2015
He survived four years in the military, a yearlong tour of duty in Afghanistan and the 2009 shootings at Fort Hood, Texas. But for several days last week, Corey Stirnes' family sat wondering what had become of the 26-year-old Peoria resident.
They called friends, they checked hospitals and jails, and as they grew increasingly desperate after four days, Stirnes' family called Glendale police on Wednesday afternoon.
It was about that time that a bicyclist called police to report a body discovered near a wrecked motorcycle in a wash next to the Union Hills Drive exit on Loop 101. It was less than a mile from Stirnes' home.
As investigators and Stirnes' family connected the dots, the truth became clear.
"When the police told us, we couldn't believe it," said Corey's father, Bobby Stirnes.
Stirnes' adult life was a story of service and survival, his family said.
Monica Hurd, Stirnes' ex-wife and high-school sweetheart, said that when they were younger, she and Corey got into a car accident that left her with a broken neck.
"He moved into my house when I was released from the hospital and would shave my legs for me," Hurd said, laughing.
"He took great care of me; he always did," she said.
His family and friends gathered at his Peoria home Thursday afternoon to gather his belongings, including his military uniforms, which his father tenderly hung in his truck with tears in his eyes.
Bobby Stirnes served in the military, so it came as no surprise to family members that Corey made the decision to enlist.
"He was just like his dad; he wanted to be just like his dad," Hurd said. "They were like the same person."
Before he had even left the country, Corey had his first brush with fate. As his unit moved through Fort Hood in 2009 before deployment, a U.S. Army major and psychiatrist fatally shot 13 people and injured more than 30 others.
Corey Stirnes (Photo: Stirnes family photo)
Corey was in the room next to where the shootings occurred, according to his family.
He lost a close friend in the shooting. Corey honored him with a tattoo on his arm and a plaque that sits on the mantel in his living room.
"He's been through it all," his father said.
Corey was a sergeant in the military and served for four years, his family said. He was deployed to Afghanistan for a year in 2010, they said.
After his year away from home, Corey's family said they decided to surprise him when he returned from Afghanistan at Fort Hood.
Family and friends met Corey as he came off the plane for a tearful reunion that shocked the returning warrior.
"It was unforgettable," his father said.
Though everyone agreed Corey had "thousands of friends," his closest friends may have been in his family.
He made everyone feel special and loved, said his stepmother, Carol Stirnes.
His stepmother was in his life from the time he was 14, after Stirnes' mother, JoAnn Sadberry, died of breast cancer when he was 6 years old.
"He is already missed," Bobby Stirnes said through tears. "But now he'll go get to see his mom."
Corey's family was vast — he called his closest friends brothers and sisters and remained committed to his ex-wife after their divorce.
The two were married for four years, but Hurd said they never stopped loving each other and that they "just couldn't live together."
"We were best friends," Hurd said. "We were always best friends."
The eight friends and family in his home Thursday had red-rimmed eyes but were nothing but smiles when telling anecdotes about Corey, whom they described as "everybody's best friend."
Corey's dedication to helping others was still evident in his post-military career. He earned his EMT certification and was going to school to become a nurse, his family said.
"He wanted to help people his whole life," his father said.
But Corey was also a vibrant young man, his family said.
His stepmother said Corey was always getting into a new and expensive hobby, such as riding motorcycles.
"Between the motorcycle, the cars, the guns and the dirt bikes, he was always coming home with a boo-boo," Carol Stirnes said.
That never stopped or slowed him from his antics.
"His nickname among family and friends was 'Spaz,'" said Ashley Hurd, his former sister-in-law.
Corey had apparently been driving his motorcycle southbound on the access road of Loop 101 near Union Hills on March 8 when the motorcycle left the roadway and crashed near the wash, Glendale police spokesman Sgt. David Vidaure said in a press release.
The area is dark at night, and the wash area is below the level of the roadway, Vidaure said. Police believe speed was a factor in the crash.
Stirnes, a loyal friend and member of a large and tight-knit family, was on his way home from a gathering at his cousin's house, his father said.
Corey will have a military funeral that will be attended by family, friends and people with whom he served in the military. He will be cremated after the service.
"I want to keep him with me," his father said. "I don't want him to be anywhere else."