Heartfelt messages of condolence have been expressed to the family of the “brave” and “beautiful” female soldier killed on duty in Afghanistan.
People from across Co Down visited a church in Corporal Channing Day’s home town of Comber to sign a book set up in the 25-year-old’s memory on Sunday.
The book was opened at St Mary’s Church of Ireland in the town as the young medic’s family paid tribute to her and thanked the community for their support.
Corporal Day was killed while on patrol in the Nahr-e Saraj district of Helmand province.
She died in a gun attack that also claimed the life of 27-year-old Royal Marine Corporal David O’ Connor last Wednesday.
The circumstances surrounding their deaths remain unclear but a Government minister has said they may have been victims of a rogue Afghan killer.
In a statement, released by the Ministry of Defence on behalf of the family, the soldier’s sister Lauren thanked friends and members of the community for their “support, kindness and love”.
“Channing knew how to light up a room,” said Lauren in tribute.
“If there was one thing she knew growing up it was she wanted to be a soldier.
“She loved what she did and we are so proud of her.
“Channing grew up into the bravest, beautiful and determined woman and she has done more in her 25 years than most women her age.”
It is thought that Corporal Day, who served with the 3 Medical Regiment, was killed as she tried to save her colleague Corporal O’ Connor, of 40 Commando.
An Afghan man, who is believed to have been a member of the Afghan uniformed police but who was not wearing uniform at the time, also died during the incident, said an MoD spokesman.
“A Joint Incident Assessment Team, comprising specialists from ISAF, along with representatives from the Government of Afghanistan, have conducted an initial review at the scene and have concluded that this was not a ‘blue on blue’ (friendly fire) incident, and that the deaths of Corporal O'Connor and Corporal Day were caused by a third party or parties whose identities have yet to be established but who are not UK personnel,” he said.
The spokesman said analysis of the event is “likely to take some time” while forensic examinations are carried out.
A Military Police investigation is also being undertaken.
Defence Secretary Philip Hammond paid tribute to Corporal O' Connor and Corporal Day at the weekend and said the details of what happened remain unclear.
“It is a terrible tragedy and I would like to send my heartfelt condolences to the family and friends of the soldier and marine who were killed,” he said.
“The circumstances are not entirely clear and there is an investigation ongoing. We know there were three people dead, one of them wearing civilian clothes.
“It is not clear as yet exactly what did happen and that investigation will continue until we find out exactly what happened.”
Asked if it was another ‘green on blue attack’ — where Afghans turn on their ISAF partners — Mr Hammond said it was “a possibility”, adding “but it is not clear at this stage who the shooter was”.
Channing’s body will be repatriated to the UK on Tuesday and her funeral will take place at a later date in Comber First Presbyterian Church.
The brave soldier had been based in the Nahr-e Saraj district, providing medical support to 40 Commando Royal Marines.
Her death brings the number of female Army fatalities in Afghanistan to three in 11 years.
A day of sombre remembrance for the woman dubbed ‘our wee hero’
It was bitterly cold in Comber on Sunday. Wet and dark, too. The autumn sunshine that had bathed the little town earlier in the week had long gone.
The atmosphere felt almost funereal and certainly sombre.
But the people who made their way to St Mary’s Church of Ireland in the village square didn’t care about the murkiness of the afternoon.
These people were here on a mission, to sign the book of condolence for Corporal Channing Day, who grew up in the town.
The mayor of Ards, Hamilton Gregory, said that everyone wanted a public place in which to express their sympathies. “Local people feel an enormous sadness at the terrible loss which the Day family have suffered and wish to show their sympathy and support for the family in a visible way,” he said.
Looking through the book, many of those expressing sympathy came from Comber, but there were also signatories from Carryduff, Saintfield, Newtownards, Dundonald and Bangor.
Cpl Day’s passing has certainly struck deep into the heart of this community. Neil Seales summed up the thoughts of many when he wrote: “You paid the ultimate sacrifice. Our wee hero. Gone but never forgotten.”
Martin Wilson, who doesn’t know the Day family, had brought his young son with him to sign the book.
“This is one of those awful things in life, such a sad loss of a young girl,” he said.
Comber native Tamar Boal, a childhood friend of Channing’s, was there with her 10-week-old daughter Eva-Rose and her mother Diane Sandford to pay their respects.
“Everyone is so shocked,” said the 25-year-old nurse, who did gymnastics with Cpl Day.
“She was such a beautiful girl, always ready to help and I hope her family can take some comfort from the memories her friends have of her.”