A 37-year-old Army pilot who grew up in Cecil County, Md., was killed Monday when his Apache helicopter crashed near Taji, just north of Baghdad, the Army said yesterday.

Warrant Officer Keith Mariotti, of Plattsburg, N.Y., died along with his co-pilot, Warrant Officer Steven Shephard, 30, of Purcell, Okla.

Mariotti had been in Iraq with the 3rd Infantry Division since January. The Army has told Mariotti's family that his Apache AH-64D helicopter was hit by a ground-to-air missile, said his stepmother, Sue Mariotti.

His mother, Nancy Mariotti of Elkton, Md., said her son "died doing what he loved to do."

"Ever since he was old enough to play with a toy airplane, he always wanted to fly," she told the Cecil Whig.

Nancy Mariotti granted an interview to the Whig, a daily newspaper in Cecil County, before Mariotti's wife, Denise Adomines, formerly of Rising Sun, Md., told her that he did not wish to be written about in newspapers if he were to die in Iraq.

When reached at her home in Elkton yesterday, Nancy Mariotti declined to comment on her son's death. So, too, did Sue Mariotti, who lives with Keith's father, the Rev. Dilio Mariotti, in North Carolina.

"Keith and Denise, his wife, were very private," she said. "He didn't want to act like a big 'Top Gun'-type or anything."

He joined the Army to fly helicopters and served in peacekeeping missions in Bosnia, Albania, Croatia and South Korea, the Whig reported.

Mariotti's mother has a locket containing a photo of Keith as a little boy draped over a larger framed photo of him in his Army uniform standing in front of an American flag, according to the Whig.

"Even flying in the United States, there's always the possibility of a crash," Nancy Mariotti told the Whig. "But when you're flying in dangerous territory, that's much worse. You pray a lot because you don't want that knock on your door."

Staff researcher Bobbye Pratt contributed to this report.

Army pilot Keith Mariotti, 37, grew up in Maryland.