Timothy Loper Jr. served in the Marine Corps for four years. ()
CAMDEN — When Tim Loper Jr. served overseas, death wasn’t completely out of his mind.
“We talked about death a lot, but we just never imagined it (happening),” remembered his wife, Beverly, tears building behind her black-framed glasses.
The 27-year-old Loper, a low-altitude air defense gunner in the Marines, survived a tour in Afghanistan, finishing four years of duty in April 2012.
But in a twist family members grappled to accept Monday, Loper was gunned down in Camden this weekend, the city’s 50th homicide victim this year.
Authorities say he was fatally shot after trying to break up a fight outside 20 Horse Tavern shortly before 3 a.m. Sunday. Family members say the corporal was at the bar celebrating a cousin’s birthday.
“He served his country, worked so hard,” Loper’s 25-year-old brother, Tyrell, said with disbelief and disgust.
“And you get killed by a nobody.”
The Camden County Prosecutor’s Office released surveillance video of a man sought for questioning in the shooting but have not yet formally identified a suspect.
Family members gathered at Loper’s Pine Hill apartment Monday afternoon waiting for a news report to air the video.
Loper’s 6-year-old daughter, Tahtiana, ran about the apartment.
“So daddy’s not going to be here for Christmas?” she asked a day earlier, according to Loper’s sister-in-law, Nina McLendon.
Family and friends described Loper as a family man who liked singing R&B. He worked at Keystone Industries in Cherry Hill, where he earned a permanent position after being hired temporarily.
When he was done working overnight shifts, Loper attended Camden County College to study sports management. He loved the San Francisco 49ers and had dreams of being a sports agent.
Loper grew up in Camden, as well as in and near Gloucester Township. On Saturday, he visited his father’s home in the city before going to the tavern.
“He said everything was good” at the restaurant, Timothy Loper Sr. recalled, noting the two talked by phone that night.
Officials said Loper was not involved in the fight. McLendon insisted “he tried to keep the peace.”
By all accounts, it was in his nature. Andre Gambrell, 25, said the Loper brothers helped him in high school when he needed it.
“I kind of had bullying issues,” recalled Gambrell, a senior airman in the Air Force. But the brothers set the instigators straight.
“After a while, there weren’t any issues.”
During his service, Loper earned a number of decorations, according to a Marine Corps spokeswoman. Among them: the Service Deployment Ribbon, Afghanistan Campaign Medal, Global War on Terrorism Service Medal, National Defense Service Medal, Navy Unit Commendation and the NATO Medal-ISAF Afghanistan.
Fellow Marines who served with Loper expressed sympathies online, describing him as a brother.
“My son was a hero, man,” Loper’s father noted.
“He’s my hero.”