White House press secretary Jen Psaki said the administration had seen reports about Cancel’s death but that the U.S. government did not have official confirmation. “First of all, our hearts go out to his family and loved ones,” she said. “We know people want to help, but we do encourage Americans to find other ways to do so rather than traveling to Ukraine to fight there. It is a war zone.”

A 22-year-old former U.S. Marine was killed alongside Ukrainian forces in the war with Russia, his relatives told news outlets in what’s the first known death of an American citizen fighting in Ukraine, reports AP.

Willy Joseph Cancel was killed Monday while working for a military contracting company that sent him to Ukraine, his mother, Rebecca Cabrera, told CNN. Cancel had recently worked as a corrections officer in Tennessee and had previously served in the Marines from 2017-21, joining the service the same year he graduated from high school.

Cabrera said her son had signed up to work with the private military contractor shortly before fighting began in Ukraine on Feb. 24. She told CNN he agreed to go to Ukraine.

“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,” she said.

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