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updated: 6/11/2014 9:57 AM

Mokena family remembers soldier killed by friendly fire

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  • Video: Mokena family remembers son

  • A sign stands outside the home of Aaron Toppen and his family in Mokena Tuesday. A family spokeswoman told The Associated Press that Topper, 19, was among five American troops killed this week during a friendly fire airstrike in Afghanistan.

      A sign stands outside the home of Aaron Toppen and his family in Mokena Tuesday. A family spokeswoman told The Associated Press that Topper, 19, was among five American troops killed this week during a friendly fire airstrike in Afghanistan.
    Associated Press

  • This undated Department of Defense photo provided by the Toppen family shows 19-year-old Aaron Toppen, of Mokena, Ill.

      This undated Department of Defense photo provided by the Toppen family shows 19-year-old Aaron Toppen, of Mokena, Ill.
    Associated Press

 
Associated Press

MOKENA -- Among the five American troops killed this week during a friendly fire airstrike in Afghanistan were a soldier from northern Illinois who deployed a month after his father died and a soldier from Ohio who was engaged to be married.

One of those killed was Aaron Toppen, 19, family spokeswoman Jennie Swartz said. Swartz said representatives from the U.S. Army came to the door of Toppen's mother, Pam Toppen, in the middle of the night to deliver the news.

"Aaron was predisposed to serve. He was very keen to be in the military," his uncle, Jack Winter, said. "He was quite proud to be there."

Military representatives also went to the home of Justin Helton's parents in Beaver, Ohio, early Tuesday to inform them of their son's death, a relative said.

As Toppen's family and friends gathered at the light blue home, Winter described the high school graduate as a caring and funny man who was "something somewhat rare in youth culture today. ... In a word, I would summarize what he had as 'class,"' Winter said. "So rarely now do you see somebody like that who truly does have class who's polite, humble, loyal, who's a kind-hearted soul, generous."

Toppen was a graduate of Lincoln-Way East High in Frankfort, Illinois, and loved the outdoors, especially fishing.

Family members at the home -- where friends continued to stop by and bring food Tuesday evening -- circulated a picture of Toppen as a young child sitting next to his father in a fishing boat.

"A military representative came to my sister's home ... and broke her heart," Winter said. "It just tears your world apart. That's the situation my sister is in."

Toppen was the youngest of three children.

The Taliban claimed responsibility for Monday's ambush in Zabul.

A Taliban spokesman, Qari Yousef Ahmadi, said a battle took place between foreign troops and Taliban fighters in the Arghandab district, and a "huge number" of NATO soldiers were killed or wounded in the fighting. The Taliban often exaggerate their claims.

The other three victims have not yet been identified.

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