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Family of American killed in Ukraine says his body is being held in potential war crimes probe

The body of an American who died fighting in Ukraine is being held for a potential war crimes investigation, his family said Tuesday.

This is another in a series of delays as Joshua Jones’ family waits to lay his body to rest. After the 24-year-old was killed in August while fighting as a member of the Ukrainian Foreign Legion, the Russians held his remains in the Donbas region. But last week, the family was notified that Ukraine had finally negotiated an exchange for the American’s remains.

His family began to prepare for a ceremony to put his body and some aspects of their grief to rest after receiving the news last week, but those plans were put on hold Tuesday.

His mother, Misty Gossett, said they were not given any further details about why Ukraine was potentially opening a case, but they were told a second autopsy was needed and the family should send a DNA sample.

Initially, the family was relieved to hear that his remains were secured, but since Oct. 26, the lack of information has been agonizing, she said.

“Every day this gets prolonged and we’re just trying to put him to rest,” Gossett said, as tears welled in her eyes. “We don’t know anything as far as how much longer it’s going to be, when he’s coming home. The communication is exhausting.”

Misty Gossett holds the bear her son gifted to her when he started in the Army and, at left, a detail from the letters that Joshua Jones sent to his mother while he was in Fort Benning in 2016.
Andrea Morales for NBC News

Ukraine has worked to document potential Russian war crimes since the invasion began, investigating alleged murder, torture and rape of civilians and soldiers. The Ukrainian Office of the Prosecutor General said Tuesday it had documented more than 43,000 cases of Russian war crimes and crimes of aggression and identified more than 600 suspects from the Russian Federation.

Moscow has denied the many war crimes allegations it has faced.

Jones served in the Ukrainian Foreign Legion, a military unit comprised of non-Ukrainians that was organized after Russia’s invasion. The Foreign Legion informed Jones’ family Oct. 26 that Ukraine had fulfilled an exchange for his remains.

When reached for comment, a spokesperson for the legion referred questions to the Ministry of Defense’s military intelligence service, called GUR, where Jones served in a unit. GUR did not respond to a request for comment.

The State Department, which confirmed to the family that Jones’ remains were secured, did not respond to a request for comment.

Ned Price, spokesperson for the State Department, said in a statement last week, however, that the remains of a US citizen were in Ukrainian custody — although he did not specifically mention Jones.

“The United States expresses our condolences to the family of the US citizen killed in the fighting in Ukraine, whose remains have now been identified and released to Ukraine’s custody,” he said. “They will soon be returned to the family. The United States is appreciative of Ukraine for including recovery of this individual’s remains in its negotiations with Russia.”