Family Mourns Illinois Soldier Killed in Afghanistan

Aaron Toppen, 19, of Mokena died after being hit with friendly fire

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    NEWSLETTERS

    Aaron Toppen, 19, of Mokena died after being hit with friendly fire. NBC 5's Natalie Martinez talks to the suburban soldier's family.

    A Mokena family is mourning the loss of a soldier killed in southern Afghanistan Monday.

    Aaron Toppen, 19, was one of five American special operations forces who died when their unit came in contact with friendly fire.

    Illinois Soldier Among 5 Killed in Afghanistan

    [CHI] Illinois Soldier Among 5 Killed in Afghanistan
    Aaron Toppen, 19, of Mokena died when his unit came in contact with enemy forces. NBC 5's Emily Florez reports.

    Toppen's family held a news conference in Mokena Tuesday evening to talk about their loss.

    "He told me he was going on a mission," the victim's mother, Pam Toppen, said. "He told me it was going to be OK. 'Mom, I'm with the best men there are. I love you. And that was it."

    Aaron Toppen joined the Army before finishing high school, and within two months of graduation, went into basic training.

    "Since the earliest conversations I've ever had with him, he wanted to be a soldier and perhaps a policeman once he got older," Toppen's uncle, Jack Winter, said.

    "Aaron was a sweet kid. Well-mannered, respectful, humble, polite. His parents and family instilled in him a strong sense of loyalty and class that no doubt served him well in that troubled land.

    Toppen left for Afghanistan on March 7. NBC News reported the soldiers may have been victims of friendly fire, possibly from another American unit. Defense and military officials said the soldiers had been working with Afghan forces.

    "He was looking for a challenge and opportunity. He wanted to serve his country, and it's something since grade school he wanted to do," Pam Toppen said. "He followed his dream. I'm proud of him ... "

    The family is especially distraught after losing Toppen's father in February.

    Neighbors say he loved the outdoors, especially fishing, and was an honorable man.

    "The respect he had for me and for his fellow man, family and everything ... very respectful young man," neighbor Larry Bettenhausen said. "He's going to be remembered as one great, young, good American ... honest, truthful and a hard-working young boy."

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