Former U.S. Marine Willy Joseph Cancel, 22, was killed while fighting alongside the Ukrainian military Monday, according to his family. He is leaving behind a wife and 7-month-old baby.
His mother, Rebecca Cabrera, told CNN that her son was working with a private military contracting company at the time of his death. Other media outlets report that he may be the first American to die serving in the ongoing war between Russia and Ukraine.
Before he signed up to join the fight in Ukraine, Cancel was working as corrections officer in Tennessee, CNN reported. He had signed up with a military contracting company not long before Russia began its assault on neighboring Ukraine. When the violence erupted, the company was on the hunt for contractors willing to travel to the conflict, and Cancel agreed to go. Cancel flew to Poland before crossing into Ukraine sometime 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 CNN.
Details surrounding Cancel’s death have yet to surface, but his mother told CNN that her son’s body has yet to be recovered.
A State Department spokesperson told NPR: “We are aware of these reports and are closely monitoring the situation. Due to privacy considerations, we have no further comment.”
The department advises Americans not to travel to Ukraine, citing the ongoing armed conflict. On Friday, a department spokesperson repeated this.
“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 was stationed at Camp Lejeune in North Carolina and served as Marine rifleman, as seen in the photo above uploaded to his Facebook profile. Marine Corps spokesperson Maj. Jim Stenger said Cancel was given a bad conduct discharge for violating a lawful general order and was never deployed to a combat zone, according to the Associated Press.