THE END

He loved adventure and survived Iraq, among other scrapes. But he was nervous about skydiving.

MICHAEL FRISCOLANTI October 8 2007
THE END

He loved adventure and survived Iraq, among other scrapes. But he was nervous about skydiving.

MICHAEL FRISCOLANTI October 8 2007

He loved adventure and survived Iraq, among other scrapes. But he was nervous about skydiving.

THE END

KEVIN MITCHELL 1984-2007

Kevin Mitchell was born on Jan. 3,1984, in Aberdeen, Scotland, a seaside city on the northeastern coast of Great Britain. He was the eldest of three brothers—Keith came next, then Scott—born to William and Jane Mitchell (née Hardie). His hair was brown, his eyes were blue, and, like many Scotsmen, he loved his haggis with “neeps and tatties” (turnips and potatoes).

When Kevin was still a baby, his father, an agricultural engineer, moved the family to a dairy farm in Dumbreck. Kevin spent every possible second outdoors, playing in the barnyard among the cattle, and riding his red toy tractor. “He hated being inside,” Jane says. One day, when Kevin was 3, he was playing outside while his father and grandfather worked nearby. “He disappeared,” says his dad, who prefers to be called Billy, not William. “And when we found him, he was in a hole in the ground—a septic tank. He was up to his neck.” A few minutes more, and Kevin would have gone under.

“It was horrific at the time, but we do laugh about it now,” Jane says.

“The smell of that child, I will never forget it to this day. It was absolutely horrendous.”

Although he was lean, quick and athletic, Kevin was not much of a traditional sports fan. He preferred camping and canoeing over soccer or golf. He was a member of the Boys Brigade, a British youth group not unlike the Boy Scouts (their motto is “Sure and Steadfast”). When Kevin was 10, his family moved again, this time to Ellon, a town of 9,000 on the banks of the River Ythan. At Ellon Academy, the local high school, Kevin was popular and outgoing, a handsome bloke with a daredevil side. He spent countless hours on his mountain bike-not riding long distances, but practising twirls and flips and other tricks. Smiling from ear to ear, he once told his mom that he had just accomplished the impossible: riding down the railing of the school stairs—all 39 of them—on his Rollerblades. “He wasn’t frightened of anything,” Billy says.

Kevin wasn’t a straight-A student. He liked math and tech, but he hated writing essays. When he was 16, he left the academy to pursue an apprenticeship in auto mechanics. It seemed to be a natural fit; he loved working with his hands. But he hated being stuck indoors, so he quit the repair shop for a series of odd jobs under the sun: a cattle farm, a pig farm, a fencing company. “He never had

money because he just spent it,” his mother says. “If there was something he wanted, he would just go get it.” Especially tattoos. Kevin’s body was covered in permanent ink. Anyone who looked at his bare chest would have seen a large snake crawling through a skull.

The army recruiters warned Kevin that a dangerous deployment was inevitable, either to Iraq or Afghanistan. But that didn’t stop him from enlisting. He was anxious for a change, something more

adventurous. In August 2005, he graduated from basic training at the top of his class and joined the Highlanders, the storied 4th Battalion of the Royal Regiment of Scotland. Four months later, the 23-year-old private landed in Iraq. “The whole time, you’re always dreading an unexpected knock on the door,” his father says. Yet whenever Kevin phoned him, he spoke as if he was on vacation, not in a war zone. “He was just so himself,” his mother says. “He was so laid back that you kind of forgot where he was—until you saw the news again.” Kevin left Iraq in May 2006. “One day, he just knocked on the door,” says Jane, weeping as she recalls that morning. “He was standing there in his combat fatigues. I will never, ever forget that day.”

Two months ago, Kevin and 400 fellow Highlanders travelled to Alberta for she weeks of training at Canadian Forces Base Suffield. Along with live-fire drills and battlefield scenarios—and a visit to the Calgary Stampede—the agenda included five days of “adventure training.” Some soldiers went rock climbing. Others camped. One group, Kevin included, would learn to leap from an airplane, courtesy of Alberta Skydivers Ltd., a private company in Beiseker.

“He was really dreading it,” says Jane, who last spoke to her son on Thursday, Sept. 13. “He said: ‘I’m really sh—ing myself.’I laughed, because I said: ‘Kevin you’re about to jump out of a plane, that is so right up your street.’ But he said: ‘No mom, I’m really dreading it.’ ” Police are still investigating, but this much is certain: the day after he phoned his parents, Kevin sat alone in the back of a plane as it climbed to 3,000 feet. His instructors stood in the landing zone below, watching as he emerged from the door. Seconds later, as Kevin plummeted to the ground, his parachute began to spin out of control. He didn’t have enough time to deploy his reserve chute.

BY MICHAEL FRISCOLANTI