A young soldier who died on holiday in Florida has been described as a popular young man who was “full of promise” and had a “flair for life”.
Private Shaun Cole, 22, died after suffering blunt force trauma to his head on the same street as his Miami hotel. His body was found on the pavement of Biscayne Boulevard by a local man in the early hours of Sunday.
Pte Cole, who served in Afghanistan in 2012, had been visiting the city with friends for the Ultra Music Festival.
Just last month, he returned from a tour of Sierra Leone with the Royal Scots Borderers, 1st Battalion The Royal Regiment of Scotland, where he was supporting the fight against Ebola.
Pte Cole, Sean Ward and Jamie Lothian had been staying at the Royal Budget Inn, on the same street where he was found lifeless in a pool of blood.
A witness told an American news channel that he saw Pte Cole running along the street with blood coming from his ears before collapsing on the pavement.
Detectives cordoned off the street while a major investigation was launched, and the death is being treated as “unclassified”.
Officers in Miami say it will be several days before they confirm whether the death is suspected of being a murder or an accident.
The district in which Pte Cole was found is understood to have a bad reputation and high crime rate.
In a statement released through the army, his family paid tribute to the popular soldier.
They said: “It comes with such regret that we have had to say goodbye to an amazing son, brother, grandson, nephew and friend.
“An extremely popular young man, he had a flair for life and was always the life and soul of everyone he was around. He was an incredible young man who had his life taken from him too soon.
“We ask everyone to respect our privacy to grieve.”
Army colleagues led the tributes to the former Tynecastle High pupil, saying he would be “missed terribly”.
Commanding officer Lieutenant Colonel Matt Munro said: “The men and women of 1 SCOTS are shocked and deeply saddened to hear of the death of Pte Shaun Cole. Only recently back from helping to battle the Ebola virus in Sierra Leone and a veteran of the conflict in Afghanistan, Shaun achieved an extraordinary amount in a military career that was full of promise but was tragically cut short. We will miss him
“Our heartfelt thoughts and prayers are with Shaun’s family at this desperately difficult time.”
Social media sites were flooded with tributes to the soldier, described as a much-loved friend and relative.
Pte Cole’s cousin, Livingston FC player Darren Cole, said he was “more like a brother” to him.
He posted a family picture online and said: “No words can describe how much I’ll miss him. Love you cuz.”
Pauline Steven said Pte Cole was a “lovely wee laddie” that his friends and family had been lucky to know.
Kirsty Leslie said the death was the “definition of tragic”, adding: “A very brave soldier indeed, thoughts are with his family, friends &
And Keith Houston said: “Why is it the ones that risk their lives protecting all of us that sadly get punished. He was a true hero.”
Family friend Alison Campbell posted: “This is just horrendous news. This young man was simply adored by his lovely family. Can’t take it in.”
Jacqueline Guthrie said it was “unbelievably tragic” to think Mr Cole had served his country before being tragically killed on holiday.
Former classmates said he was “loved by everyone” and would be remembered for his cheeky outlook on life.
Tom Rae, headteacher at Tynecastle High, said: “Shaun is remembered fondly as a helpful, pleasant and hard-working student. He had a good sense of humour and was popular with his peers, the staff and was a real team player.”
Pte Cole, who is also survived by his sister, Jade, had been eagerly awaiting the trip to Florida with his friends.
Two weeks ago, he posted on Facebook: “We’ve only got a week left until we are in the biggest and best dance music event in the UNITED STATES..!”
Just hours before his death, Pte Cole wrote another post, saying how much he was enjoying his holiday.
He said: “Had the best time in Miami with the boys, easily put up my hands and admit I can’t keep up with them.”
Jamie Lothian, who had been in Florida with Pte Cole and Sean Ward, took to Facebook to write a heartfelt post about him. Mr Lothian, also a soldier with the army, said: “It’s killing me inside to write this but still can’t get my head round any of it! I’ve not only lost one of my best friends but a brother and there is not a moment for the rest of my life that I’ll never stop thinking about you bro! Thanks everyone for the support coz I canny even explain what we are going through over here.”
Mr Lothian and Mr Ward are understood to have left the hotel yesterday morning. It is not known when they will return to Scotland.
Just last month, Pte Cole spoke to the Evening News on his return from a four-month visit to Sierra Leone to support efforts to tackle the Ebola outbreak.
He was among the first troops from the UK aid teams to arrive in west Africa and work with the Republic of Sierra Leone Armed Forces.
Pte Cole helped provide security for British aid workers and helped to set up helicopter landing sites and escort convoys for vital supplies.
He and his colleagues also spent time with orphans who had lost their parents to Ebola.
Pte Cole, who was based in Northern Ireland, told the Evening News it had been difficult to be away from family and friends over Christmas.
“We all volunteered to go. When we arrived in Sierra Leone all the civilians were delighted to see us. Obviously there is a lot of heartache in the country, but there’s a lot of hope there, too. All over the country has been struck quite badly – Ebola is a terrible virus.”