At 13, Jeremy Kane was deeply affected by the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks in 2001. The event shaped his life, and led him to a fateful choice.

"He knew he had to do something for his country, and that was join the military," said his mother, Melinda, of Cherry Hill. "He wanted to serve."

To drive home the point, Kane joined the Marine Corps on Sept. 11, 2006, during his freshman year at Rutgers University and served as a reservist.

On Saturday, three months into his deployment in Afghanistan, the 22-year-old lance corporal was killed when a suicide bomber attacked his unit in Helmand Province.

The attack apparently was in retaliation for the seizure of tons of opium and weapons the Marines had discovered, according to early reports.

Hours later, three military officers arrived at Melinda Kane's door with the heartrending news.

"I knew when I opened the door they were there for one reason," she said. "It's hard to comprehend. Everyone was worried but confident he would come back safe and sound.

"He was bright, in excellent condition, and well-trained," she said. "There was no reason to believe he would be harmed."

Melinda Kane, 52, said her son had recently phoned his girlfriend to plan a homecoming party for his return in May. "They talked about what kind of celebration they would have," she said.

Jeremy Kane graduated from Cherry Hill High School East in 2006 and studied criminal justice at Rutgers. He planned to return to the university to finish his senior year.

"He was an avid reader," his mother said. "He read books most adults would never read. He listened to classical music and hung out with friends, playing video games."

Kane's father, Bruce, was a pathologist at Cooper University Hospital in Camden and had served as a major in the Army. He died in June 2008 while his son was undergoing Marine Corps training.

Kane "thought it was his duty as an American to serve his country," his mother said. "His grandfather had also been in the Marines."

He "chose the Marines because it was the most difficult and most respected," she said. "He was in communications and told me he wouldn't leave the base, but I think he said that to placate me."

Kane had two brothers: Benjamin, 16, a junior at Cherry Hill East, and Daniel, 19, a sophomore at Virginia Tech.

Yesterday, family and friends, including Cherry Hill Mayor Bernie Platt, gathered at the Kane home. The mayor's Platt Memorial Chapel in Cherry Hill is handling funeral arrangements, which were pending.

"This is a heartbreaking day for the people of Cherry Hill," Platt said. "Jeremy Kane was a distinguished and dedicated member of our community, and we're all very saddened by his passing."

Rep. John Adler (D., N.J.), whose district includes Cherry Hill, phoned the family to offer condolences.

"Cherry Hill has lost a brave and heroic young man who dedicated his life to serving our country," Adler said. "He sacrificed his life to protect our communities and families. My thoughts and prayers are with his family today."

Melinda Kane remembered his first call from Afghanistan. He asked for chocolates and pens to hand out to the children of a local village.

"I want people to know that this was someone from Cherry Hill," she said. "He had options, and this was his choice.

"He knew the dangers but wanted a rich, full life. I don't think he ever thought this would happen."