Hundreds gather to pay respects for Charlotte-based pilot shot and killed in Puerto Rico

Memorial held for pilot shot and killed in Puerto Rico

HUNTERSVILLE, N.C. (WBTV) - There wasn’t an empty seat to be had at the James Funeral Home on Saturday afternoon.

Friends and family of Matthew Stapula, a 48-year-old American Airlines killed last week in a shooting during a layover in Puerto Rico, gathered to pay their final respects. The memorial was also attended by several fellow pilots.

Stapula’s family still has a lot of questions, but right now they are in shock and grieving the loss of someone they loved dearly.

Stapula’s father, Eric Stapula, said Matthew died near some sort of bar in San Juan, Puerto Rico.

“You’re in shock at first, and of course you feel overwhelmed. You don’t know what to do,” Eric Stapula said in a phone interview with WBTV Monday night.

Eric Stapula says his son had a passion for the aviation industry and loved to fly, even getting a chance to occasionally work with his daughter who had worked as a flight attendant. The elder Stapula noted that his son was a family man.

“I’m losing a very close friend and obviously my firstborn son,” Eric Stapula said.

He said his son was a husband, father and grandfather and had another grandchild set to be born in the near future.

The grieving father said he learned about his son’s death Monday morning, but wasn’t given a lot of information.

Dennis Tajer, a spokesperson for the Allied Pilots Association, told WBTV that the association is aware of Matthew Stapula’s death, and is looking into every detail to make sure other pilots and passengers are safe. He said the association is also focused on supporting Stapula’s family.

Eric Stapula said he plans to be at the airport when his son’s body is brought back to Charlotte. Right now he has several unanswered questions.

“I would really like to know the whole and true story, but right now it’s just a tragedy that’s left everybody here numb,” Eric Stapula said. “He knows that we love him. He knows that he was my best friend, and he knows that God loves him.”

WBTV reached out to American Airlines Monday and officials provided the following statement:

“On Sunday, we lost a Charlotte-based member of the American Airlines family in a tragic incident which occurred in San Juan, Puerto Rico. Our thoughts and prayers are with our colleague’s family, friends and loved ones. We have mobilized teams to provide care to his family, as well as fellow team members during this difficult time. Local law enforcement is investigating this incident, which occurred during the early morning hours of Feb. 2. We are providing any investigative assistance possible.“

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