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CLEVELAND HEIGHTS, Ohio (WJW) — The Cleveland Heights community is mourning the death of a former U.S. Marine, who was killed in Ukraine on April 19 while fighting alongside Ukrainian forces during a battle with Russian troops.

John Lentz, the pastor of Forest Hill Church in Cleveland Heights, said the family of Cooper Turner “Harris” Andrews was notified by U.S. officials that the former marine was killed during a battle for a crucial road to Bakhmut. Pastor Lentz said he was told that Andrews was part of a group that tried to evacuate injured refugees and troops trapped behind Russian lines when he was hit by mortar fire.

“Cooper was part of a group that went back towards the front line in order to help civilians and other wounded soldiers back into safety,” Lentz said.

The 26-year-old Andrews attended Cleveland Heights High School and served in the Marine Corps from 2017 to 2022.

The school district issued a statement that reads:

The Cleveland Heights-University Heights School District is deeply saddened to learn of the death of former student Cooper Andrews. This tragedy speaks to the heartbreak and devastation caused by war. We send our sincerest condolences to Cooper’s family and loved ones.

Statement from Cleveland Heights-University Heights School District

Lentz said before Andrews departed for Ukraine last year, the former Marine told him that he felt he had a calling to defend the Ukrainian people, and he joined a group of freedom fighters in the Foreign Legion in Ukraine. His family said he later became part of an activist group called the Resistance Committee.

“We prayed together and I asked him about why he was doing this and his answer was, ‘Well, if not me, who?'” Lentz said.

“My sense is that Cooper, as most deeply sort of courageous people, don’t count the cost before they go,” he later added. “This was a need. I’m sure he was one who would say, ‘Yeah, I gotta do this.'”

Andrews’ family is waiting to hear from the U.S. government on whether his remains behind Russian lines can be recovered and returned to the U.S.

“Tears may tarry for the night, but joy will come in the morning,” Lentz said. “And we’re going to be there, supporting the family, showing that his death is not in vain and perhaps being inspired now to live faithfully and well in our own lives.”

Lentz said a memorial service for Andrews will be held in Cleveland Heights, but the details have not yet been confirmed.