Shain Gandee's fun-loving personality made him a breakout star on MTV's Buckwild. So when news broke that the 21-year-old had been found dead in a vehicle in Sissonville, W.Va., on April 1, fans and friends alike were understandably distraught. Twenty-four hours later, the tragedy still seems unreal to those closest to him.
"What has happened is just so tragic," his cousin Ashley Gandee Lewis told E! News. "I cannot believe I was just hugging him on Saturday."
According to Lewis, Gandee (known to fans as "Gandee Candy") attended the opening of her store over the weekend in Crown City, Ohio, where he "was laughing, passing out free hugs and talked to every person in-depth that came up to him."
"He wasn't stuck-up or anything," she said. "He acted super-personal and respectful and amazing to everyone."
Lewis added E! that Gandee's mom and dad are beside themselves with grief. "You can't console them. They are just devastated. They just lost their baby," she said. "God has a plan for everybody; why this was his plan for [Shain] we don't know. We don't understand why and we don't understand what exactly happened."
It seems no one does at the moment. As Us Weekly previously reported, Gandee was found with his uncle and one other person in a vehicle that was partially submerged in mud. TMZ speculated that carbon monoxide poisoning had played a role in their deaths, but that theory has yet to be confirmed by the medical examiner.
In any case, Lewis hopes her cousin will be defined by the way he lived, not by the way he died. "I want people to remember him as fun, funny, that he was a good hometown, family country boy who enjoyed his life and his family," she told E!. "He loved every person that he came in contact with."
MTV, for its part, has halted production on the second season of Buckwild, which chronicles the lives of young adults in Sissonville and Charleston, W.Va. The series debuted in January 2013; in February, the network announced that the show would be returning for another season.
"We are shocked and saddened by the terrible news about Shain Gandee, and those involved in this tragic incident," the network said in a statement. "We are waiting for more information but at this time, our main concern is for the Gandee family and their friends. Our thoughts and prayers are with them. Shain had a magnetic personality, with a passion for life that touched everyone he met and we will miss him dearly."