Ohio, Illinois soldiers among 5 dead in airstrike

MOKENA, ILL. — 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.

Pentagon spokesman Rear Adm. John Kirby said the five American troops were killed Monday “during a security operation in southern Afghanistan.” Officials said an airstrike was called in after the unit was ambushed by the Taliban. It is one of the deadliest friendly fire incidents in nearly 14 years of war.

One of those killed was Aaron Toppen, 19, family spokeswoman Jennie Swartz told The Associated Press from the family’s Mokena home, about 40 miles southwest of Chicago. 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.

Mindy Helton said her cousin specialized in dealing with explosives and was based out of Fort Bragg, North Carolina.

Justin Helton, 25, had been in Afghanistan about two months and was engaged to be married, she said. He had been in the Army since 2010.

“He was a great boy, so full of life and outgoing,” she said. “He loved hunting and the outdoors.”

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.”

It was the second death of a loved one for the family this year. Toppen was set to leave for Afghanistan in February, but his gravely ill father died that month and he stayed for the funeral. He deployed in March.

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.

Military members provided few details of the attack to the family, Winter said.

“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.

More in Local News

Within an hour, 2 planes crash-land at Paine Field

One simply landed hard and went off the end of a runway. Another crash involved unextended landing gear.

Mill Creek’s Donna Michelson ready to retire at year’s end

The city’s longest-serving council member says she has every intention of staying involved.

Leanne Smiciklas, the friendly lady who served customers of her husband’s Old School Barbeque from a schoolbus parked in front of the Reptile Zoo east of Monroe, has died at 64. (Dan Bates / Herald file)
Without her, beloved BBQ hotspot in Monroe can’t go on

Leanne Smiciklas, who ran the now-closed Old School BBQ along Highway 2 with her husband, died.

Foundation awards grants to Arlington schools

The Arlington Education Foundation on Nov. 13 presented a check to the… Continue reading

Snohomish County firefighters head to California for 18 days

They’re from Fire District 26 in Gold Bar, Getchell Fire and Fire District 7.

State commission reprimands Snohomish County judge for DUI

Judge Marybeth Dingledy had pleaded guilty and was sentenced to a day in jail.

Driver arrested after car strikes pedestrian in Everett

The pedestrian was crossing the road near 12th Street and Broadway. He was injured.

Active Casino Road volunteer honored for work

Molina Healthcare recently honored Jorge Galindo, from Everett, as one of its… Continue reading

Over $12K raised to InspireHER

InspireHER, a local organization that encourages female empowerment, raised over $12,000 at… Continue reading

Most Read