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Former corrections officer killed while fighting alongside Ukrainian forces

The death of Willy Joseph Cancel, 22, marks the first known death of an American citizen in the ongoing war


Willy Joseph Cancel.

Courtesy photo

By Jackson Cote

BRENTWOOD, Tenn. — A 22-year-old former United States Marine was killed earlier this week after being contracted to fight in Ukraine amid the Russian invasion of the Eastern European country, marking the first known death of an American citizen in the ongoing war, CNN reported.

CNN reported the former Marine, identified as Willy Joseph Cancel, was killed Monday fighting alongside Ukrainian forces. His mother, Rebecca Cabrera, told the news outlet she was alerted of her son’s death and that his body had yet to be found.

Cancel was originally from Orange County, New York, but was living in Tennessee before he left to fight in the war in Ukraine. He is remembered by his wife and 7-month-old baby, according to CNN.

The former marine had a full-time job as a corrections officer in Tennessee, but was hired by a private military contracting company around when the Russian invasion started in February, CNN reported. He took a flight to Poland on March 12 and traveled to Ukraine shortly after.

“He wanted to go over because he believed in what Ukraine was fighting for, and he wanted to be a part of it to contain it there so it didn’t come here, and that maybe our American soldiers wouldn’t have to be involved in it,” his mother told CNN.

Asked Friday if U.S. President Joe Biden’s administration had a message to Cancel’s family, White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki said, “Our hearts go out to his family and loved ones.” She noted the White House had seen reports of Cancel’s death, but did not have official confirmation, so she could not “speak to other specifics about him beyond that.”

“We know Americans are looking for ways to help,” Psaki said, “and the reports about this individual were that he’s a veteran; some — he had a child, I believe; and certainly sounded like a very passionate young man.”

Psaki recognized people want to help Ukraine, but encouraged Americans to find other ways to do so rather than traveling to the war-torn country to fight there.

“It is a war zone. It’s an active war zone. And we know Americans face significant risks. But certainly, we know a family is mourning, a wife is mourning, and our hearts are with them,” she said.

Talking to reporters at the White House, Biden said about Cancel’s death, “It is very sad. He left a little baby behind,” CNN reported.

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