Local Soldier Wounded in Afghanistan Dies
Death of U.S. Army Spc. Derek McConnell announced on "Team Derek" Facebook page by family. Residents Austin Balarin and his mother Maria dedicated the Tunnel to Tower Run last year to McConnell.
McConnell, 23, was wounded in Afghanistan in July 2011, while patrolling in the Zahri District in Kandahar. The cause of his death is not immediately known.
Some of the proceeds from the second annual Stephen Siller Tunnel to Towers Run in 2012 in Wayne were given to McConnell and his family.
McConnell lost both of his legs when he stepped on an improvised explosive device while on patrol in Kandahar, Afghanistan in July 2011.
"Everything changed in an instant after those two blasts," McConnell said in 2012 in Wayne, choking back tears as he spoke. "I have a very different life now, but if I had to do it all over again, I would. So many people have been affected by hearing my story and I've been affected by hearing theirs."
After a year of treatment in Maryland, McConnell returned to New Jersey with a hero’s welcome to live in Parsippany in late 2012. He was engaged to be married to his high school sweetheart.
“It is with a heavy heart that I must inform you that our hero, Derek, deployed to Heaven today,” his mother Siobhan Fuller-McConnell posted on “Team Derek.” “He fought hard right until the end. He will be missed and never forgotten.”
The U.S. military presented McConnell with the Bronze Star Medal With Valor Device, the military's fourth highest award of valor.
According to the U.S. Military, McConnell and fellow soldiers were brought in to secure an area where members of their platoon had been wounded after striking a pressure-plate improvised explosive device. McConnell volunteered to lead his fellow soldiers and found himself in a small minefield, the U.S. military said. He encountered two explosives and as a result lost his left leg and his right leg from the knee, among numerous other injuries.
McConnell was engaged to Krystina Dressler of Fairfield. The couple competed against other military couples in "Operation Tie the Knot" and won a wedding of their dreams in the online giveaway. Dressler posted about finding her wedding dress on her blog, Something That Can Never Be Stopped: Us, earlier this month.
He is a 2008 graduate of West Essex High School in West Caldwell. He was a member of Notre Dame Parish in North Caldwell, where he was an altar server. He entered the U.S. Army in January 2009. After finishing Airborne training, he was assigned to Catamount, B Co., 2-87 at Fort Drum.
When McConnell was deployed in March 2011 and was shipped to Afghanistan, “He was upbeat and ready to serve his country,” his mother wrote on the Caringbridge.org blog, where she kept a journal about his recovery.
In addition to his mother and fiancé, McConnell is survived by four siblings, Michael, Kellina, Ryan and Sean.