A 22-year-old veteran was killed on April 25 while supporting Ukrainian forces — the first American casualty in the ongoing conflict between Ukraine and Russia.
Willy Joseph Cancel, a former United States Marine, was working for a private military contracting company, according to his mother Rebecca Cabrera.
Cabrera told CNN her son’s employer had sent him to Ukraine and paid him to fight in the conflict. Cancel also worked full-time as a correctional officer in Tennesee. After Russia invaded Ukraine on Feb. 24, Cancel signed up with the contracting company which was looking for people to send to the Eastern European nation. He reportedly flew to Poland on March 12 and arrived in Ukraine between March 12 and 13.
“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,” Cabrera told the outlet.
The name of the company that employed Cancel was not included in the report, nor were the circumstances of his death. The deceased American’s mother said Cancel’s body had not yet been recovered.
“They are trying, the men that were with him, but it was either grab his body or get killed, but we would love for him to come back to us,” she said.
The report of Cancel’s death has not yet been confirmed by the United States government.
“We are aware of these reports and are closely monitoring the situation. Due to privacy considerations, we have no further comment,” a spokesman for the State Department told CBS News. “We once again reiterate U.S. citizens should not travel to Ukraine due to the active armed conflict and the singling out of U.S. citizens in Ukraine by Russian government security officials, and that U.S. citizens in Ukraine should depart immediately if it is safe to do so using any commercial or other privately available ground transportation options.”
Cancel’s mother said the veteran is survived by his wife and 7-month-old baby.
“He was just a really thoughtful person. He always put everybody ahead of himself even when situations were so stressful,” Cabrera said of her son. “He always kept everybody laughing and calm. He was the man that stood up when everybody else stood back.”
“My husband did die in Ukraine,” Brittany Cancel, Cancel’s widow, told Fox News on April 29. “My husband was very brave and a hero… I did not expect to be a widow at 23 years old or for our son to be without a father. All I want is for him to come home, and to give him the proper burial he deserves.”
The United Kingdom’s Foreign Office announced on April 28 that a British citizen and former soldier has died while fighting in Ukraine. The 36-year-old had served in the Royal Logistics Corps.