NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — Communities across Kentucky and Tennessee are reeling from the news that two young natives were among those killed in the terrorist attacks in Brussels last week.
Stephanie and Justin Shults were confirmed dead Saturday, ending their families' international search for the young couple living abroad.
Vanderbilt University, where the couple met while attending the Owen Graduate School of Management, issued a statement that said the "bright young couple chose, in the spirit of discovery, to become global citizens in order to grow, to learn and to broaden their perspective."
"They represented the very best of Vanderbilt and Owen," the statement said.
President Barack Obama called their parents to share a similar message, that the couple epitomized all that is great about America.
Justin Shults was originally from Gatlinburg, Tennessee, and his wife, Stephanie, was a native of Lexington, Kentucky.
They were dropping Stephanie's mother off at the airport. They waved goodbye to her just moments before the bombs went off, Stephanie's cousin, Larry Newsom, told The Associated Press last week. Her mother, Carolyn Moore, was knocked to the ground by the explosion. She searched but could not find them in the chaos, Newsom said.
Families of both rushed to Europe to try to aide in the search, Newsom said. Earlier this week, Justin Shults' family heard from a federal official that the couple had been found alive, his brother, Levi Sutton, posted on Twitter. But after a brief celebration, they learned the information was incorrect, he said.
Betty Newsom, Stephanie's aunt, told WKYT-TV that the family is relieved to be able to focus now on the good memories they have of Justin and Stephanie Shults.
Relatives described them as a generous and kind couple who moved to Brussels for work and made the most of their European lives. They traveled to a new country every month and invited their American relatives to visit, Larry Newsom said.
"She never had a negative opinion of anyone," Betty Newsom told WKYT. "She was a peacemaker. If there were family and friends upset she was the one trying to make peace. She is the kind of person you wish everyone was. Justin was so protective of her because she was such a tender heart."
Their families said they were glad the couple had an exciting life, full of adventure and love.
"I never met a single person that didn't like him," Justin's brother, Levi Sutton, tweeted. "He worked hard his whole life and achieved goals that most could only dream about. He traveled the world leaving each destination better than when he arrived."