A Colorado man who chose to fight ISIS in Syria with Kurdish troops has been killed by a land mine, according to his family.
Levi Shirley, 24, was born and raised in Colorado and his family says he always dreamed of being a Marine.
Due to poor eyesight, he could never enlist, despite getting corrective surgery in his teens.
Shirley was not enlisted in any U.S. military service nor deployed through the American government. He was serving as a foreign fighter embedded alongside Kurdish troops.
Shirley had gone overseas to fight ISIS once before, his family said, in February 2015. When he came back in June 2015, he told his family he never wanted to fight overseas again. They told NBC News they were unaware he had returned to fight in Syria.Instead, his mom Susan Shirley said her son left home in January 2016, telling family he was going to Texas to train to become an EMT.That was the last contact he had with his family.The next thing Susan Shirley heard about Levi, the state department was reaching out to her through the consulate in Turkey, asking for identifying information on her son. In Syria, he was known as "Hewal Agir".A freelance photographer for Getty Images spent some time with Shirley and other Kurdish fighters in April 2015, capturing the American keeping watch, armed for battle.
At that time, Shirley was fighting with Kurdish forces known as YPG, or People Protection Unit, against ISIS in the northwestern Syrian town of Tal Tamr, near the Turkish border.Other photos taken around the same time show various men from other countries fighting alongside Shirley and other Kurdish troops.
Shirley’s family was notified of his death through an e-mailed letter dated July 18, 2016 from the YPC, the Kurdish fighting forces Shirley was embedded with.The letter reads, in part:“Levi joined actively in our offensive against the terror threat that ISIS caused upon Rojava Kurdistan. Here, on the dark hours of 14 July 2016, where he exercised an immense belief and strength in the very frontlines, we lost Levi in Manbej city. On the fearless march toward the posts of the terrorist, we lost our brave companion Levi “Agir” because of land mine.”The letter is dated July 18, 2016, and signed by the “General Command of People Protection Units (YPG).”A Facebook page for “YPG International” posted a tribute to Levi and another fallen soldier on Thursday.
The same group posted a YouTube video memorializing Shirley. The letter states Shirley joined YPG forces on February 21, 2015.
Shirley’s family still lives in Arvada. They say bringing his body back home is going to be very “complicated” due to the fact that he died in Syria.His mom and sister describe Levi as a “soft-hearted guy” who really wanted to be a marine; a man upset innocent people were being persecuted by ISIS.His family said he felt he had to do something.Levi Shirley has a younger sister, Kate. His father is a Vietnam War veteran.