NORCROSS - Judy Jordan Johnson said she wasn't quite sure what to think of Spc. Christopher Patton when she first saw him as a student at Central Gwinnett High School.
The hair down to his shoulders. The leather jacket. The imposing football player size.
But one didn't have to be around Patton long to experience his compassionate heart and his gentle spirit, Johnson told the hundreds gathered at Atlanta Vineyard Church in Norcross for the Lawrenceville resident's funeral Saturday.
"Our high school and our city has lost a great man," said Johnson, Lawrenceville's mayor pro tem and a teacher at Central Gwinnett. "Central Gwinnett High School is a better school because Chris walked with us."
Patton, 21, died Sept. 1 in Baghdad in a noncombat-related incident. The circumstances surrounding his death are under investigation, said authorities at Fort Hood, the Texas installation where Patton was assigned.
Family and friends said Patton always fought for what he believed in and the terrorist attacks on Sept. 11, 2001, made him believe more strongly than ever in defending his country.
"He was passionate about joining the military after 9/11," said Eli Foster, a cousin of Patton.
But he was also passionate about his friends, family and his belief in God, Foster said.
"It didn't matter if things were easy, and it didn't matter if things were hard ... because he was committed to God," Foster said.
Patton joined the Army as an infantryman in June 2005, shortly after he graduated from high school. He was deployed to Iraq in November. And he was honored as a hero Saturday.
Maj. Gen. Jerome Johnson presented Patton's military awards at the funeral. Patton was awarded the National Defense Medal, the Global War on Terrorism Service Medal, the Iraqi Campaign Medal, the Army Service Ribbon, the Overseas Service Ribbon and the Parachute Badge.
Gwinnett firefighters raised an American flag over Jimmy Carter Boulevard in the fallen soldier's honor during and after the funeral.
The Patriot Guard Riders, a group of volunteer veterans, accompanied his body to the Georgia National Cemetery in Canton with a motorcycle honor guard.
It all served as recognition for the sacrifice Patton made.
"Our friend Christopher paid the ultimate price for our country and for us," said Johnny Crist, the senior pastor at Atlanta Vineyard Church.