U.S. citizen Willy Joseph Cancel, 22, was killed in Ukraine while fighting alongside Ukrainian forces, members of Cancel’s family confirmed to media outlets Friday.
Cancel’s mother, Rebecca Cabrera, told CNN that her son was hired in February by a private military contracting company on top of his full-time job as a corrections officer in Tennessee. When the war in Ukraine broke out, he agreed to go fight.
“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 CNN.
She also said Cancel’s body had not yet been recovered.
Cancel is the first U.S. citizen known to have been killed while fighting in Ukraine, though other Americans have been killed during the war. Cancel leaves behind a wife and 7-month-old son, Fox News reported. Brittney Cancel, Cancel’s widow, also confirmed his death to Fox.
“My husband did die in Ukraine,” she said, according to Fox. “He went there wanting to help people, he had always felt that that was his main mission in life.”
Cabrera and Brittany Cancel did not immediately respond to USA TODAY’s requests for comment. The State Department also did not immediately return a comment request.
Jimmy Hill, American killed in Ukraine, was ‘true to his love’ and stayed with sick partner
Fox News cameraman and consultant killed outside of Kyiv after vehicle struck by incoming fire