Trooper Mark McKeen was “destined to be a soldier” according to teenage friend Gary Middleton.
The pair met when they both went to the newly formed Lisneal College in September 2004, and the young Cadet made an indelible impression on his fellow pupils.
“I remember him well, right through until we finished school. We had both joined the Army Cadet Force and went away on many structured weekends with the rest of the detachment, and even then everybody could see his love for the Army and his desire to go into full-time soldier life,” said Mr Middletown.
“I remember Mark being just so keen and determined to do that and as he worked his way through school that’s what he knew he was going to do. It is so very sad that he has been killed in such tragic circumstances.
“I remember him joining Lisneal from Strabane and trying to fit in, which he did so well. He just had one of those personalities that you just go on with him and he had many friends,” said Mr Middleton, adding: “Mark excelled at school and did business studies, but he was meant to be in the Army.”
The Principal of Lisneal College, David Funston, also paid tribute to his former pupil, saying: “I recall Mark as a very popular and personable young man. It is such a tragedy that someone so young with everything in front of him has passed away. On behalf of myself and indeed everyone at Lisneal College I pass on the deepest sympathy to his family.”
Alderman April Garfield-Kidd, who also works at Lisneal College, said: “I was saddened to hear of the death of local lad, former student and serving soldier Mark McKeen who died on Saturday last night. Thoughts and condolences are with his family, friends and colleagues at this time.”