(CNN) — Nathan Cirillo was the strong, smiling type.
The Canadian army reservist could look the part of intimidating soldier, the way that his abundant muscles filled out his uniform. But his Instagram and Facebook page and recollections shared online suggest Cirillo was a person at ease snuggling with a dog, enjoying music or joking with friends.
“His smile will live in our hearts forever,” wrote one woman who’d go over to Cirillo’s house growing up. “I am proud to say I knew someone who put his life on the line for this country.”
His life ended late Wednesday morning in downtown Ottawa, as he stood guard at the National War Memorial in ceremonial uniform with white gloves alongside another soldier at the National War Memorial. It’s the kind of role that’s supposed to be an honor, not a risk.
Yet, then and there, someone approached Cpl. Cirillo and fired. Peter Henderson heard four shots, then saw Cirillo’s body laying on the ground by the memorial’s soaring granite arch.
He appeared to have been shot in the back with “catastrophic” wounds, Henderson said.
Hours later, authorities announced Cirillo had died as a result.
Mayor: ‘Combat soldier (killed) in cowardly ambush’
Cirillo “was a very proud member of the Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders,” Col. Lawrence Hatfield from that regiment told reporters Wednesday night. That group is a reserve unit consisting of the Canadian “Army’s primary war-fighters … responsible for closing with and destroying the enemy,” according to its website.
“They’ve had an immense fighting history,” Bob Bratina, the mayor of Cirillo’s hometown of Hamilton, Ontario, told CNN partner CTV. “It’s said (the unit’s) history is written in blood in so many different places.”
Ottawa’s National War Memorial, though, wasn’t supposed to be one of them. As Bratina pointed out, “the posting of the ceremonial guard is an honor who goes to special privileged soldiers who have the credentials and the qualifications and the approval of their commanding officers.
“This individual would have been a trained combat soldier sadly taken in this cowardly ambush, which makes the tragedy even greater,” the mayor said, before Cirillo had been identified publicly.
In his brief statement, Hatfield expressed his regiment’s “sincere condolences” over Cirillo’s tragic, violent death.
“Our thoughts and prayers are with his family,” the colonel said, “and we hope that Canadians share that with us and as well for the ongoing safety of our soldiers.”
Images show him as buff, dog lover
Cirillo leaves behind a son, who started kindergarten earlier this fall, according to his Instagram page.
After his death became public, pictures began appearing online showing Cirillo recently at the memorial in his full ceremonial garb, kilt included.
Other people went much further back, like a men he’d befriended in the military and a high school classmate who recalled Cirillo as someone who was “always so funny and always had a smile for people as he would walk down the hallways.”
One woman remembered Cirillo waiting her for over an hour one freezing night in Hamilton, coffee in hand. Another reflected on his finding an abandoned puppy and then taking it home, describing him as “a great guy with an even bigger heart.”
Cirillo’s Facebook and Instrageam pages include impressive pictures of him working out as well as his sculpted physique. They also show a man who’d strum a guitar, snuggle with dogs and post a picture of a cute, furry kitten in his backpack.
This soldier, after all, also “liked” the nonprofit Dog Lovers International. His Instagram page is full of canines, including some that were his own and at least one he helped rescue and placed in a home.
It’s that big heart, for humans and animals alike, that his friends will miss most.
“Not only did you protect our country, but you were such a loving, caring, and funny person to everyone around you,” one of them wrote. “You were always in such a good mood and trying to make people laugh all the time.”