Flags at the Avon Old Farms School, and across Connecticut, now fly at half staff in honor of Army Captain Andrew Pedersen-Keel who was killed in Afghanistan Monday.
Pedersen-Keel, 28, graduated from the elite boarding school in 2002. Those who knew him there are now mourning his loss, and are remembering him for his strong academic, athletic, and leadership skills.
Known on campus as PK, Pedersen-Keel was an honors student, the editor of the student paper, and a varsity athlete in football, lacrosse, and wrestling, according to school officials.
"He loved serving his country. He was a hero," said Kevin Driscoll, the school's football coach.
Driscoll recalled Pedersen-Keel for his ability to lead the football team, despite being the smallest member of a towering offensive line.
"In the middle of that group of guys, I had this 5' 10", 185 pound center who really was the catalyst of that group of guys. They looked up to him, all these monsters looked up to him, and he was the leader of that group," said Driscoll.
Pedersen-Keel was one of two American special forces members killed in Afghanistan on Monday when a man dressed in an Afghan police uniform opened fire on them at a police station, according to the military. Five others also died in the attack.
"We're a family. He was an important part of the family. He lived here at school for four years so it's almost like losing one of your own," said Kenneth LaRocque, the school's headmaster. "I just remember a young man with a smile on his face who always wanted to do the right thing. He was a great man."
After graduating from the Avon Old Farms School, Pedersen-Keel went on to attend the West Point Military Academy. He graduated there in 2006.
"He was just overjoyed when he received his appointment to West Point and he really was so proud of that and eager to serve his country," said LaRocque.
Flowers now sit outside his family's Madison home.
"He always said he wanted to go to West Point," said Mark Freeman, who attended Avon Old Farms with Pedersen-Keel. "He was always a level headed guy, just very honest and forthcoming. Always a friend. Just a really great person and he deserves all of the accolades because it's tragic. It really is."
Next to his picture in his senior yearbook, Pedersen-Keel chose a quote from T'ao Chien that reads, "Just surrender to the cycle of things, give yourself to the waves of the Great Change, and when it is time to go, then simply go, without any unnecessary fuss."
The school plans to honor Pedersen-Keel during a memorial service on its Alumni Weekend in May.
"He was just too young and too special to die in the line of fire like that," said Freeman.
"We lost a great man, we lost a great Avonian, and Connecticut lost a great son," said Driscoll.