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Family of American killed fighting Islamic State said he felt religious call after rocky past

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HUDSON, Massachusetts — The father of the first American believed to have been killed fighting the Islamic State group said his son's path "wasn't very straight," but God straightened it and guided him to Syria.

Keith Broomfield, a Massachusetts man who had no military training, died fighting alongside Kurdish forces on June 3. Friends and family members gathered Wednesday to mourn him at Grace Baptist Church in Hudson before a private burial.

The 36-year-old Broomfield was remembered as a motorcycle buff who ran afoul of the law but had cleaned up and dedicated his life to God.

"Keith got his heart straight, and it was after that he said, 'Dad I'm gonna go do this. I've seen what's going on and it doesn't make a lot of sense, but I have to go do this,'" said his father, Tom Broomfield.

Friends said he embraced his passions headlong. As a teenager, he tuned up a 1970s Harley Davidson motorcycle and rode cross-country to California with his brother. He was deeply fond of his dog, Columbo, a basset hound that friends brought to the funeral.

But his zeal also applied to self-destructive interests.

"There was a lot of things that Keith tried that we won't even mention, but it breaks your heart to see your children do that," his father said.

Court records show he was arrested in Leominster in 2004 on drug and gun charges, including possession with the intent to distribute methamphetamines. He pleaded guilty and was sentenced to 18 months in jail, records show.

Childhood friend Ben Roberts said Broomfield had "lost years pursuing things that left him empty and alone, and that left those who loved him wounded."

After a motorcycle accident left Broomfield with chronic pain, he rediscovered his faith and the pain went away, his father said. Later, Broomfield heard about Kurds being persecuted for their Christian faith and felt compelled to help.

"He took what he believed and he acted on it, and that's something not many of us can say, sadly enough," friend Ed Roberts said.

Broomfield, who was raised in Bolton and lived more recently in Westminster, had been a plant manager at his family's Bolton-based business, Broomfield Labs Inc. He had also been a machinist at B&J Cycles, a repair shop in Ayer.

Among hundreds at the funeral were several from the repair shop who arrived on motorcycles. Nearby, a group from the New England Kurdish Association gathered around a framed portrait of Broomfield and a flag of the Syrian militia he had joined.

"He passed away in our land for us," said Abdul Tammo, of Hartford, Connecticut. "He supported us, so we're here to support him."

PHOTO: The hearse carrying Keith Broomfield's casket leaves Grace Baptist Church in Hudson, Mass., following a funeral service, Wednesday, June 17, 2015. Broomfield was killed in Syria while fighting the Islamic State group. (AP Photo/Michael Dwyer)
The hearse carrying Keith Broomfield's casket leaves Grace Baptist Church in Hudson, Mass., following a funeral service, Wednesday, June 17, 2015. Broomfield was killed in Syria while fighting the Islamic State group. (AP Photo/Michael Dwyer)

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PHOTO: Pallbearers carry the casket with Keith Broomfield's remains from Grace Baptist Church in Hudson, Mass., following his funeral, Wednesday, June 17, 2015. Broomfield was killed in Syria while fighting the Islamic State group. (AP Photo/Michael Dwyer)
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