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A Duluth soldier comes home

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A U.S. convoy in Iraq. Army Specialist Daniel McConnell died reportedly in an accident involving a similar convoy Tuesday in Kirkuk. (Image courtesy of the US Army)
A soldier from Duluth is the latest Minnesotan reported killed in service in Iraq. Army Specialist Daniel McConnell reportedly died Tuesday in a vehicle accident in Kirkuk. It's another hard blow for a family that's had its share of troubles.

Duluth, Minn. — Daniel James McConnell was 27 years old - an Army Specialist who's been in the service just two years. A great aunt says he died in a convoy accident in Kirkuk, but few other details are available so far. McConnell's family is from Duluth but it's mostly scattered now. He leaves two young daughters. McConnell was the oldest of five brothers and sisters.

When McConnell was a young teen, in 1992, his mother, Beverly, died of cancer. Soon, the siblings were separated, according to great-aunt Betty McConnell of Superior.

"The children were all young - the ages I'm not sure of," McConnell says. "And then the father had a heart attack, so the children were put in foster care and the two younger ones were adopted out."

When they go out the door, you know, you hope and pray for the best for them. But there are no guarantees, I guess.
- Teacher Colleen Arfman

McConnell's father remained in poor health and died in 1998. Daniel McConnell lived with foster parents in Saginaw, a township just outside Duluth. He attended and graduated from Albrook High School in 1996.

High school English teacher Colleen Arfman remembers Daniel as a quiet student, who was suddenly struck with an appreciation for Shakespeare.

"One of the best memories I have was when we were covering Shakespeare's Macbeth," Arfman says. "And, you know, he wasn't real outgoing - he was a very private person. But, one day we decided to do a check, to see what you know - a quiz-down between teams. And he was answering every question possible. And the other kids said they want him on their team because he was answering everything. And he apparently just got into William Shakespeare and did so well with it."

McConnell was a quiet presence among his small class of about 40. He had a few close friends, and was involved in activities in and out of school.

"He participated in track, and he was ... a Snowball King candidate in his senior year," Arfman says. "And he was just the kind of kid that - you know - he loved kick-boxing. But we didn't have that here, but he did that on his own. So, he wasn't overly involved, but when he was involved in something I think he gave it his all."

Arfman says it's hard to hear about a student's death.

"Well, you see a young man like himself come, and, you know, ... he did have his own troubles and what not," Arfman says. "And he kept pretty much to himself. But then when they go out the door, you know, you hope and pray for the best for them. But there are no guarantees, I guess."

Daniel McConnell enlisted in the Army two years ago. He was assigned to an infantry unit based in Hawaii. Among his surviving relatives is a grandmother in Duluth, who's reportedly broken up by the news of his death.

McConnell's body is expected to be flown into the United States on Friday. Visitation will be Monday at a Duluth funeral home, and his burial is Tuesday in cemetary in Hermantown.

Great-aunt Betty McConnell says she'd understood that Daniel was expected to be back safe after his tour soon.

"The last email he had sent to, I think, his sister, was that he expected to be home in eight weeks," says McConnell. "But I don't know just when that was, but they said they were hoping he'd make it for Christmas."

McConnell is the 5th soldier from the Duluth area lost since the U.S. went to war in the Mideast. He's at least the 10th from Minnesota to die in military operations since 2003.