By Shawn Chitnis

BERTHOUD, Colo. (CBS4) – The death of an army specialist killed in Afghanistan left high school friends in shock on Tuesday as they remembered his talent in school, his passion for the outdoors, and the commitment he made to serve his country.

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“Whenever anybody asks, I always say he was one of the smartest kids in my class,” Nathan Denesha said of his friend Gabriel Conde.

(credit CBS)

The soldier from Loveland was killed in action on Monday. He was shot by enemy fire, according to the U.S. Army.

Conde, 22, had been in Afghanistan since Sept. 2017 after enlisting in August 2015.

Denesha met Conde in middle school in band class.

“Me and my friend Zack always competed for first seat trumpet, then Gabe came along, I think it was 7th grade, then I competed for second seat trumpet,” Denesha recalled. “It was a great rivalry, he pretty much taught me everything I knew about the trumpet.”

(credit Nathan Denesha)

They competed against each other in middle school but teamed up for a marathon as freshmen at Berthoud High School. The pair along with other friends took first place in that competition. It was early in their high school career that Conde showed a passion for service.

“We had lunch together every day, it was a good time. we had math classes together, he was a genius,” said Denesha. “Ever since I was a freshman, he wanted to join the military.”

Denesha had heard Conde was expected back from his deployment next month. Friends in touch with Conde while he was overseas told him their former classmate was at home as a solider.

“He was doing great, he was loving his missions, he was going on awesome adventures. He was living the life he wanted to,” said Denesha.

(credit U.S. Army)

Family and friends learned about his death on Monday and were still processing the loss of Conde. Denesha said it took six hours for him to even begin to accept what happened to his friend.

“I was doing fine, I was doing fine, and then it hit me like a ton of bricks. I couldn’t believe he was gone. It was just devastating,” he said. “You kind of think they’re invincible, especially a guy like that.”

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Conde impressed his classmate not only in the classroom and after school but outside as well. Denesha says he loved camping, fishing, and hunting. He could have become a physicist, according to his friend, but answered the call of his country.

“He was just really at core, a patriot,” said Denesha. “He loved the country, and he just wanted to do everything he could to make it better.”

(credit Gabriel Conde/Facebook)

Conde tutored other students in math and lived his life “full throttle” always trying to help others, his friend said.

“He was just good at everything, he was good at math and band, and music and he was an incredible artist, he was creative,” said Denesha. “I’m proud he lived his dream, he lived the life that he wanted to.”

After learning about Conde’s death, Denesha shared a favorite memory on Facebook:

Both students were in class when Conde asked, “Hey, how’re you doin’?”

Denesha responded, “I’m doin’ good.”

But Conde didn’t accept that answer. “No, you’re not doin’ good, you’re doin’ well. Batman does good.”

“I think I can say that he did good in life,” Denesha told CBS4.

The incident that killed Conde is under investigation, according to an army spokesperson.

“He’s not going to be remembered for his death,” said Denesha. “He’ll be remembered for his accomplishments and how much he loved everything he did.”

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Shawn Chitnis reports for CBS4 News at 10 on weekends and CBS4 News at 5 p.m. and 6 p.m. throughout the week. Email him story ideas at smchitnis@cbs.com and connect with him on Twitter or Facebook.