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By Tim Stelloh, Kurt Chirbas, Brooke Glatz and Yuliya Talmazan
A serviceman with a special interest in researching his family’s roots was among the American victims of the weekend plane crash in Ethiopia that killed 157 people.
Antoine Lewis of Matteson, Illinois, was on the Boeing 737 Max 8 headed for Kenya when it crashed shortly after takeoff.
His mother, Antoinette, told NBC News that her son was on vacation. Lewis’ Facebook page described him as a former company commander in the Army, but his mother said he was still in the military and had planned to move to Africa.
She said Lewis was interested in discovering his heritage after taking a 23andMe DNA test, which can reveal one’s genetic identity and ancestry.
NBC Chicago quoted Lewis’ father, Rodney, as confirming the family received a call notifying them of their of his death.
Lewis leaves behind his wife, Yalena Lopez, and a 15-year-old son.
His sister Markita posted a tribute to her brother on Facebook: “Losing anyone you love hurts but it’s a different hurt when you lose a sibling,” she said. “Thank you for always being a awesome big brother always encouraging me, believing in me, and teaching me to live with no fears.”
Melvin and Bennett Riffel, who were brothers from Redding, California, were also passengers on the flight, according to a family spokesman.
They were returning from a trip to Australia, longtime family friend and Redding Chamber of Commerce President Jake Mangas told NBC News late Monday.
“These are two guys that when they’re in the room, you really know it,” Mangas said. “These guys were just wonderful, and they’re going to be missed deeply by this community [and] for those family and friends that knew them the best.”
Melvin Riffel graduated from Shasta High School in 2007, Mangas said. Bennett Riffel graduated three years later.
Five other Americans were on board the Ethiopian Airlines jet, which was was headed from Addis Ababa to Nairobi, Kenya.