(CNN) — President Joe Biden expressed dismay Friday at the news that an American, Willy Joseph Cancel, was killed while fighting alongside Ukrainian forces.
“It is very sad. He left a little baby behind,” Biden told reporters at the White House where he was hosting a meeting of federal inspectors general.
Cancel was killed fighting alongside Ukrainian forces, members of Cancel’s family confirmed to CNN. The 22-year-old was working with a private military contracting company when he was killed on April 25. The company sent him to Ukraine, and he was being paid while he was fighting there, Cancel’s mother, Rebecca Cabrera, told CNN.
Cancel, a former US Marine, according to his mother, signed up to work for the private military contracting company on top of his full-time job as a corrections officer in Tennessee shortly before the war in Ukraine broke out at the end of February. When the war broke out, the company was searching for contractors to fight in Ukraine and Cancel agreed to go, Cabrera said.
“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 in a phone interview.
White House press secretary Jen Psaki on Friday offered condolences to Cancel’s family, saying the US government had not officially confirmed his death and cautioning Americans against traveling to Ukraine for any reason.
Asked by CNN’s MJ Lee about Cancel’s death, Psaki said during the White House press briefing, “Well, first of all, our hearts go out to his family and loved ones. … We don’t have official confirmation, even though we’ve seen the reports, but we have not had that official process through the government, so I can’t speak to other specifics about him beyond that.”
She then cautioned against Americans traveling to Ukraine to take up arms.
“We know Americans are looking for ways to help and the reports about this individual were that he’s a veteran,” she said. “He had a child, I believe, and certainly sounded like a very passionate, young man. We know people want to help, but we do you encourage Americans to find other ways to do so … rather than traveling to Ukraine to fight.”
“It’s an active war zone. And we know Americans face significant risks, but certainly we know a family is mourning. A wife is mourning and our hearts are with them,” she continued.
Psaki also reiterated that the administration’s advice “has been that Americans should not travel to Ukraine for any reason.”
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