Pastor says local soldier 'laid down his life for us, now that's a hero'

Pastor says local soldier 'laid down his life for us, now that's a hero' »Play Video
Spc. Robert Ellis of Kennewick.

KENNEWICK, Wash. - The death of an American hero in Afghanistan has a Kennewick family mourning. It was the first tour of duty for Spc. Robert Ellis.

He was a Kennewick Lion and joined the Army fresh out of high school. It was just a few weeks ago the 21-year-old had re-enlisted for another five years.

The decision was tough on his best friend.

T.J. Tolliver said, "It was hard because he was one of my best friends and then for him to just not be there and just to know, that, like just to know the danger that I might not be able to see him again."

And he won't. Spc. Ellis was killed during an attack at Bagram Air Base. His family says he was hit by mortar fire. He was one of four killed in the blast.

His pastor Bill Dupignac said, "That man that I knew as a boy in youth group laid down his life for us, now that's a hero."

That hero had been in Afghanistan since November, expecting to return this August. He posted these pictures of his time overseas on his Facebook page. His family tells me, he was proud to serve his country. He always knew he wanted to be a soldier.

His brother Jimmy said, "He taught me how to be brave like he was, he was my role model."

Ellis was an athlete with a love for baseball even at an early age. By the time he got to high school he joined the football team. He was a proud lion, earning one of the school's highest honors as a sophomore.

His mom said, "I think he was pretty proud of it, he really didn't say much about it. I know his dad and I were."

Of course it was hard for his mother, Joelle, to speak on camera. She learned of her son's death late Tuesday. But she wanted you to know more about who he was.

"One of the things that I know for sure is that Robbie had the hope, and he is an American hero, a treasure and that will never be taken away from him," his pastor said.

His family says his belief in God and country is what drove him.

The military has three days to return a fallen soldier's body. I'm told Robbie is already on a plane headed for home. Funeral services are expected later next week here at Grace Baptist Church.

Ellis was not married and had no children.

A prayer service was planned for Wednesday night but was postponed until Ellis' body is returned to the U.S.

Editor's Note: We originally reported Ellis was a private in the army. The military confirms he was promoted to Specialist prior to his death.