When Mark Quinsey last visited his family in Birmingham his mother Pamela and sister Jaime comforted themselves with the thought he would at least have a few weeks of normal life in peacetime Northern Ireland before setting off for the dangers of war-ravaged Afghanistan.
Sapper Quinsey (23) was just six hours from boarding his RAF flight to Kandahar when he was killed along with his comrade Patrick Azimkar (21) as they did one of the things people do in normal life — collecting a takeaway pizza outside his base in Antrim.
Pamela collapsed with shock when she heard that her only son was dead.
Jaime (25), who was backpacking in Thailand, was rushing back home yesterday.
“RIP Mark, I love you so much. I haven’t stopped crying, flying home now,” she wrote on her Facebook page.
Sapper Quinsey’s father Bill was in tears.
“The last thing in his mind now is seeing Mark smile as he drove off,” said Mr Quinsey’s brother Greg.
Mark’s uncle Greg described his nephew’s killers as “cowardly murderers with no morals at all”.
He added: “Mark was unarmed and he was just collecting a pizza. He was only 23 and this is such a waste of a life. He was just a nice kid.
“He joined the Army so he could help people. My brother Bill is devastated.
“He is just keeping himself to himself, we have all tried to see him but he has just locked himself away.”
There was also grief 120 miles away at Wood Green in north London at the home of Sapper Azimkar’s family.
His mother Geraldine, who is of Irish descent, and father Mehmet, a Turkish-born carpenter, have sought solace with relations.
In a statement Sapper Azimkar's family remembered “a great character and a good sport who never said anything bad about anyone”.
They told of his love for Northern Ireland and said he had been considering a permanent move to Belfast. The young soldier was described as “decisive, generous, proud and dignified”, and someone who really enjoyed Army life.
“He particularly enjoyed living in Belfast and he talked of settling there with his girlfriend after his return from Afghanistan — a mission which he was within just two hours of leaving for,” the family said.
Sapper Azimkar’s only brother James described him as “courageous, strong and a loyal and true friend”.
He also talked of a lost life which was “decisive, generous, proud and dignified”, of a young man who had enjoyed Ulster so much that he was thinking of settling in Belfast with his girlfriend and exploring his Irish heritage.
Friends talked of Patrick’s love of sport.
He was a promising footballer who had trials for Tottenham Hotspur.
A spokesman for club said yesterday: “Given Patrick’s affiliation with the club we will be honoured to send a tribute.
“Our thoughts and condolences are with his family and friends at this time.”
The 38 Engineer Regiment, to which the two dead men belonged, was in Afghanistan yesterday.
Its tour of duty takes place at a time when US forces will start their “surge” in the country, and there may well be other casualties.
Neighbours living near Sapper Azimkar's home at Wood Green also expressed shock at his death.
Greg Kalogirou, a friend of the young soldier for 11 years, said: “He loved football and he was really good. He could have done that as well to be honest, but he chose the Army. It was all he'd ever wanted to do.”
Sapper Quinsey’s cousin, Lee Quinsey, said: “You would have thought he would have been safe on British soil over there.
“I don’t know whether he wanted to go to Afghanistan, but he I know he wanted to do a good job.
“The way these people had used civilians as decoys is absolutely sickening. Someone should know something and, for the sake of our family, they should come forward and give up these murderers.”