From left: Lorrie and Blake Dingman
Courtesy of the Dingman Family
November 13, 2018 06:09 PM

As an event planner, Lorrie Dingman couldn’t help but imagine the future wedding of her eldest son, Blake.

At 21, Blake was still living at home, still mastering adulthood, but she knew he had time.

A gunman’s bullet changed all of that. On Wednesday, shortly before midnight, Blake was one of 12 victims killed at the Borderline Bar in Thousand Oaks, California.

Now his family — mom Lorrie, dad Dan and his younger brother, Aidan — is grappling with his death, forced by another mass shooting in America to talk about him in the past tense.

“He always, always, always had a smile on his face,” Lorrie tells PEOPLE. “He emitted joy and he was really happy.”

Blake had been working as an electrician for several years when he was killed, his mom says. Intuitively smart, and a gifted mechanic and athlete, he was well known in the community for helping others with their trucks or motorcycles, gladly taking on quick jobs like fixing a light or spending a whole day to work on someone’s car: “He had a huge heart and constant grease under his fingernails.”

“He cared about people and he would do anything for anybody at anytime,” says Lorrie, adding that Blake would make himself the butt of a joke to make someone smile.

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She says one reason she loved having Blake at home was being able to watch him mature, become more responsible and “come into his own.”

• For more on the 12 victims slain in the Borderline Bar mass shooting, pick up this week’s issue of PEOPLE, on newsstands Friday.

It will be the little things Lorrie will miss about her son, “just because he’s so much me,” she says, from his wild red hair — inherited from her — to the days spent with his family in the desert (his favorite place), to busier moments when he turned to her for advice.

“I’m just going to miss that kid so much,” Lorrie says through tears.

It was Blake’s 18-year-old brother, Aidan, who first shared the news of his death with the world. In an Instagram post hours after the shooting, he wrote, “Words cannot describe the pain I am feeling. Last night my life was changed forever.”

Blake (second from the left) celebrating his 21st birthday with his family
Courtesy of the Dingman Family
Aidan (top) and Blake Dingman at Aidan's graduation earlier this year
Courtesy of the Dingman Family

“I received news of gunfire at Borderline Bar … from a friend. Which was where my brother was hanging out for the night,” Aidan continued in his post. “Me, my dad, and mom raced to the scene. Or as close as we could get. We tried for hours and hours to get in touch with Blake and got no response. At 12:00 this morning I was informed that my amazing brother was taken down by the shooter as well as his good friend Jake Dunham. Blake, I love you so much and I miss you more than you can imagine.”

Lorrie says that her sons were close and bonded over their love of trucks and the desert, sharing a large group of friends. Though they fought sometimes, as brothers do, Blake was Aidan’s “friend, mentor and hero.”

RELATED: These Are the Victims of the Borderline Bar Mass Shooting

On the night of the shooting, Blake was hanging out with his usual crowd, including Dunham, who was also fatally shot.

In the days after they were killed, their friends organized a tribute ride through Thousand Oaks that was made up of more than 180 vehicles, Lorrie says. The procession took more than seven minutes.

“He loved being with his friends, he loved helping people,” she says. He and Dunham “were always in the center of the fun.”

Blake Dingman in the desert with family and friends for Thanksgiving 2017
Courtesy of the Dingman Family

In a longer statement to PEOPLE, Lorrie wrote that she knows Blake will be reunited with them again in heaven. Their family took some comfort in the many friends who rallied around them, spending every day at their home.

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“It’s just so brutal,” Dan told the Washington Post. Lorrie says Dan coached Blake for years in baseball and soccer.

His loss seems impossible.

“I’m going to miss his hugs and his heart,” Lorrie wrote. “He gave the best hugs and always told me he loved me. I am in utter disbelief that I will not be able to hold or hug my son again.”

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