A 22-year-old former US Marine has been killed alongside Ukrainian forces in the war with Russia, relatives told the media in the first known death of a US citizen fighting in Ukraine.
His mother, Rebecca Cabrera, told CNN that Willie Joseph Cancel was killed on Monday while working for a military contracting company that sent him to Ukraine. Cancel recently served as a Tennessee corrections officer and formerly served in the Marines from 2017 to 21, joining the service the same year he graduated from high school.
Cabrera said her son registered to work with the private military contractor shortly before the fighting began in Ukraine on February 24. She told CNN that he agreed to go to Ukraine.
“He wanted to go because he believed in what Ukraine was fighting for, and he wanted to be a part of it to contain it there, so he didn’t come here, and maybe our American soldiers wouldn’t have to get involved in that,” she said.
Cabrera said her son’s body has not been found.
“They didn’t find his body,” she said. “They’re trying, the guys who were with him, but they either take his body or get killed, but we’d love for him to come back to us.”
She said her son traveled to Poland on March 12 and entered Ukraine shortly after. She said he was fighting alongside men from a number of countries.
Cancellation had also worked as a volunteer firefighter in New York and left behind a 7-month-old son, according to an online fundraising page set up by a man who identified himself as his father. The page said his wife received a call informing her of his death on Tuesday. The father wrote that Cancellation made the decision in early March to go to Ukraine because he wanted to defend the innocent.
The school district said it canceled a graduation from New York’s Free Academy in 2017.
Matthew Davio, a spokesperson for private prison firm CoreCivic, said canceling work at a private prison in Tennessee from May 2021 through January. Trousdale Turner Correctional Center, a medium security facility, is located about an hour northeast of Nashville.
“As a correctional officer, Mr. Cancel has served his state and community by helping maintain a safe and secure environment where inmates can participate in life-changing re-entry programs. We are grateful for his service and saddened by his loss,” Davio said in a statement.
While in the Marines, Cancel served as a gunslinger and was stationed at Camp Lejeune, North Carolina. Marine Corps spokesman Major Jim Stinger said he was discharged for misconduct after being convicted of violating a legal public order.
Stinger said he did not have any deployment in the war zone. No further details were provided about the misconduct conviction.
The United States has not confirmed reports of Cancellation’s death. On Friday, the State Department said it was aware of the reports and was “closely monitoring the situation” but could not comment further “due to privacy considerations”.
“We once again reiterate that US citizens should not travel to Ukraine due to the active armed conflict and the singling out of Russian government security officials with US citizens in Ukraine, and that US citizens in Ukraine should leave immediately if it is safe to do so using any commercial or other options,” the State Department said. One of the land transportation options available to the private sector.
Cancel’s widow, Brittany Cancel, told Fox News that he left behind a young boy and that she considers her husband a hero.
“My husband died in Ukraine,” said Brittany Kansel. “He went there wanting to help people, and he always felt that this was his main mission in life.”
She said her husband volunteered to go to Ukraine but also had aspirations of becoming a police officer or firefighter.
“He had dreams and aspirations to be a police officer or to join the FDNY,” she told Fox. “Naturally when he found out about what was happening in Ukraine, he was eager to volunteer.”
It is believed that tens of thousands of Ukrainians died in the war. Other non-combatants from the United States were killed, including A Documentary director Who was killed when his car came under fire at a checkpoint and a A man was killed while waiting in line for bread.
Drew reported from Durham, North Carolina. This was contributed by Matthew Lee, an Associated Press diplomat in Washington, and Associated Press writer Ben Finley in Norfolk, Virginia; Allen G. Breed in Hubert, North Carolina; Kristen Hall in Murray, Kentucky; Karen Matthews in New York; and Dylan Louvain in Louisville, Kentucky.