Even in fifth grade, Christopher Lorek knew he had his work cut out for him.
"I'm going to protect my country. This is my job," the former Glen Ellyn man wrote when he was in elementary school, according to his mother.
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Today, Janet Lorek looks back on that note and realizes it's no surprise her son found his calling in a top-secret career at the FBI.
"He really belonged to his country," she said.
Christopher Lorek, 41, was one of two special agents who fell to their deaths in a May 20 counterterrorism exercise off the Virginia Beach coast.
He and Stephen Shaw -- both members of the bureau's elite hostage rescue team -- were fast-roping from a helicopter onto a ship when the aircraft "encountered difficulties" and the men plummeted "a significant distance," officials said.
Lorek's parents are still trying to come to grips with the tragedy.
"It's just hard to believe," his father, Bill, said, fighting back tears.
A 1989 graduate of Glenbard South High School, Lorek joined the FBI in 1996, about three years after he graduated from Texas A&M University with a degree in ocean engineering.
His family said he started at the bureau in a professional support role and then worked his way onto the hostage team, which in February rescued a 5-year-old boy from an Alabama bunker in a daring raid that left the child's captor dead.
Janet Lorek described her son as a "natural leader" who excelled at whatever he tackled, from athletics to academics.
At age 10, he ran a small lawn-cutting business, and by 13, he was an Eagle Scout.
"He showed a great deal of responsibility from an early age, and you don't see that a lot in young people today," his father said. "He loved doing so many different things."
In recent years, his parents said they saw little of their son, who saved the bulk of his free time for his wife, Jennifer, and their two daughters, Abigail and Madeleine, 11 and 8, who lived with him in Glen Allen, Va.
"He would fly through here and pop in just like out of nowhere, but our time with him was very limited," Janet Lorek said. "He understood his family had to sacrifice, and we did sacrifice. But his children really needed him more, and he was very much aware he needed to be with them as much as possible."
Bill Lorek said his son frequently called home and shared stories of his high-level training, which included parachuting, repelling and close-quarter combat with live ammunition.
He said the fast-roping exercise was meant to train agents how to slide untethered down a rope from a helicopter and hit the ground with weapons drawn, similar to how the Navy SEAL Team 6 invaded Osama bin Laden's compound.
"You have to be able to make decisions quickly and be very much in control of everything," he said. "There's no Charlie Sheens in there."
Just 57 agents have been killed on the job since the bureau was established in 1908, FBI statistics show.
As of September, there were more than 13,900 special agents. Fewer than 100 of them serve on the hostage rescue team.
"These men are so extraordinary, they're cut from a special cloth," Janet Lorek said. "When I look at each one of them, I see my son."
FBI Director Robert Mueller said all members of the hostage rescue team "accept the highest risk each and every day ... to keep our nation safe."
"They will always be a part of the FBI family," he said in a statement.
For Janet Lorek, it's most comforting to know her son lived the way he was meant to: in the service of others.
"He lived a meaningful life and touched the lives of so many people," she said. "What more can you say about a person?"
The family has planned a public memorial service for 11:30 a.m. Saturday, June 8, at St. James the Apostle Church, 480 S. Park Blvd., Glen Ellyn.
Donations also may be made to the Christopher Lorek Memorial Fund at Community Bank, 357 Roosevelt Road, Glen Ellyn. Proceeds will be used to place a memorial bench at Morton Arboretum in Lisle and for other community projects in Lorek's memory.