Friendly fire: Pasadena man among 5 killed in Afghanistan (updated)

Scott Studenmund, a graduate of a high school in La Cañada Flintridge, was one of five soldiers killed in a friendly fire incident in Afghanistan Tuesday, according to NBC4.
Scott Studenmund, a graduate of a high school in La Cañada Flintridge, was one of five soldiers killed in a friendly fire incident in Afghanistan Tuesday, according to NBC4.
Screenshot from NBC4

A 24-year-old soldier born and raised in Pasadena was among the five killed in southern Afghanistan on Monday.

Scott Studenmund, a graduate of Flintridge Preparatory School in La Cañada Flintridge, was killed during military engagement in Afghanistan, school officials confirmed to KPCC. He was the son of former eHarmony CEO Jaynie Studenmund, according to the Associated Press.

The five American troops were killed "during a security operation in southern Afghanistan," Pentagon spokesman Rear Adm. John Kirby told the AP.

RELATED: 5 US troops killed by friendly fire in Afghanistan

Officials said an airstrike was called in after the unit was ambushed by the Taliban. It is one of the deadliest friendly fire incidents in nearly 14 years of war, AP reports.

"Scott was a beloved member of his class, an athlete and a scholar and is being mourned by the entire Flintridge Preparatory School community. He was a brave, virtuous patriot," Headmaster Peter Bachmann said in a written statement.

Studenmund was born at Huntington Hospital in Pasadena and graduated in 2008 from Flintridge, where he was an All-Area and All-League football star and a runner, according to the statement. 

"He wasn't a typical cross country runner because he was solid and strong, not lanky and tall. He was fierce on the hills and always had a huge sprinter's kick in every race's finish," said coach and history teacher Ingrid Herskind.

Studenmund's football coach and science teacher, Glen Beattie, remembered him as "an undersized defensive football player" who "made our defense go. He was aggressive, quick and wouldn’t let anyone block him or dominate him. He would fight through anything and would not let himself be defeated."

Studenmund left college early to join the military and pursue his dream of becoming a Special Forces Green Beret soldier. During his service, he attained that title, learned to speak Arabic and completed one of the most difficult military trainings, a seven-week combat dive school at Key West, officials said.

A sniper, Studenmund was deployed in January and scheduled to return in August, according to the statement.

He is survived by his father, Woody, his mother, a sister and a step brother who lives in Seattle.

Pasadena Mayor Bill Bogaard requested flags be flown at half mast through Tuesday.

"When I think about Scott’s service, I think of the Founding Fathers — a virtuous man must be prepared to risk his life, fortune and sacred honor for his country. This sentiment guided Scott," Bachman said.

Among the other troops killed were a soldier from northern Illinois who deployed a month after his father died and a soldier from Ohio who was engaged to be married. AP shared details of the men whose lives were lost:

Aaron Toppen, 19

Family members of Toppen remembered him Tuesday as a kind-hearted man who had aspired to a career in the military or law enforcement.

"Aaron was predisposed to serve. He was very keen to be in the military," his uncle Jack Winter said. "He was quite proud to be there."

It was the second death of a loved one for the family this year. Toppen, from the Illinois city of Mokena, about 40 miles southwest of Chicago, was set to leave for Afghanistan in February. But his gravely ill father died that month, and he stayed for the funeral. He deployed in March.

Toppen was a graduate of Lincoln-Way East High in Frankfort, Illinois, and loved the outdoors, especially fishing. Family members at the home Tuesday circulated a picture of Toppen as a young child sitting next to his father in a fishing boat.

"He was something somewhat rare in youth culture today. ... In a word, I would summarize what he had as 'class,'" Winter said of his nephew. "So rarely now do you see somebody like that who truly does have class, who's polite, humble, loyal, who's a kind-hearted soul, generous."

Toppen was the youngest of three children.

Justin Helton, 25

Helton had been in the Army since 2010 but had been in Afghanistan for only about two months, according to cousin Mindy Helton. It was his first deployment, and he expected to be home in about six months, she said.

She said her cousin specialized in dealing with explosives and was based out of Fort Bragg, North Carolina. She also said he was engaged. His parents live in Beaver, a two-hour drive east of Cincinnati, Ohio.

"He was a great boy, so full of life and outgoing," she said. "He loved hunting and the outdoors."

The 2006 graduate of Beaver's Eastern High School was known to friends and family as Buck and was a quiet leader, Robert Day, his high school baseball coach, told WCMH-TV in Columbus.

Tim Hattle, who had known Helton since grade school, told the station that he messaged his friend on Facebook last week.

"He said time was really dragging over there. I said, 'Just don't worry. You'll be home soon.' And to be safe," Hattle said. "Then I told him I loved him."

Associated Press writer Lisa Cornwell contributed to this report from Cincinnati, Ohio.

This story has been updated.