The Pentagon confirmed on Saturday the names of the 13 U.S. service members who were killed in a suicide attack at the Kabul airport in Afghanistan on Thursday
Most of the deceased had already been identified by local media outlets, but the Pentagon’s confirmation makes the list official. Of the service members killed, 11 were men and two were women, and all but one was too young to remember the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks on New York City.
Here is a list of the heroes who died trying to evacuate U.S. citizens and Afghan refugees from Taliban rule:
Marine Corps Lance Cpl. David Espinoza
Espinoza, 20, from Rio Bravo, Texas, last spoke to his mother, Elizabeth Holguin, on Wednesday – just one day before the suicide bombing that killed him. His final words to his mother were “I love you.”
Holguin told The Washington Post that Espinoza’s dream had always been to join the Marine Corps. He enlisted right after he graduated in 2019 from Lyndon B. Johnson High School in Laredo, Texas.
“It was his calling and he died a hero,” his mother told the Post. She also told the outlet that her heart has “a David-sized hole nobody can fill.”
Texas Gov. Greg Abbott (R) ordered flags to be flown at half-staff in honor of those who were killed at the Hamid Karzai International Airport in Kabul, Afghanistan.
“These heroes should never be forgotten,” Abbott tweeted.
Sgt. Nicole Gee
Gee, 23, from Roseville, California, had become famous in the week before her death by being featured in several viral Instagram posts from the airport. In one post, Gee is holding an Afghan baby with a caption that read: “I love my job.” In another photo, she can be seen standing guard as Afghan refugees head toward a military aircraft preparing to leave the country. This one she captioned: “Escorting evacuees onto the bird.”
Capt. Karen Holliday announced that Gee was one of the 13 U.S. service members killed in the airport suicide attack.
“She had a name. She was doing God’s work…..a warrior,” Holliday wrote in a Facebook post, according to Stripes. “Searching Afghan women and children trying to get out of country.”
Holliday also remarked on the photo of Gee leading Afghan refugees to the military plane, saying, “A few days after this photo was released, she gave the ultimate sacrifice.”
Gee was a maintenance technician who just recently had been promoted to sergeant.
Marine Corps Staff Sgt. Taylor Hoover
Hoover, 31, from Utah, graduated from high school in 2008 and was publicly honored by Rep. Blake Moore (R-UT) and Utah Gov. Spencer Cox (R)
Hoover’s father told the Post that his son was a “true hero” who “did what he loved doing, serving the United States.”
“We’ll be forever grateful for his sacrifice & legacy. He spent his last moments serving our state and nation, and we’ll never forget his unwavering devotion,” Moore wrote on Twitter.
Cox also tweeted condolences for Hoover, writing that the staff sergeant “served valiantly as a Marine and died serving his fellow countrymen as well as America’s allies in Afghanistan.”
“We honor his tremendous bravery and commitment to his country, even as we condemn the senseless violence that resulted in his death,” Cox added. Cox also ordered flags to be flown at half-staff in honor of those who had been killed.
Army Staff Sgt. Ryan Knauss
Knauss, 23, from Knoxville, Tennessee dreamed of being in the military since at least the second grade, writing in his yearbook that he wanted “to be a Marine,” according to WBIR. He joined JROTC in high school and graduated in 2016, after which he joined the U.S. Army. Knauss was the only soldier to die during the Kabul airport attack.
His grandfather told WATE that Knauss was a “motivated young man who loved his country.”
The Post reported that Knauss’ stepmother told the outlet her stepson had completed psychological operations training and was expecting to move to Washington, D.C.
Knauss reportedly enjoyed working with his hands and helping his wife with her garden.
“Our teammate died not only serving our nation, but helping to give others a life of freedom and opportunity,” the 1st Special Forces Command, to which Knauss was assigned, wrote on Twitter.
Marine Corps Cpl. Hunter Lopez
Lopez, 22, of Riverside, California, was the son of two law enforcement agents in Southern California, the Post reported. His mother is a deputy sheriff and his father is a sheriff’s captain, and Lopez reportedly planned to become a sheriff’s deputy when his deployment ended.
“Hunter was the victim of vicious evil and was killed because he wore a United States Marine uniform with love and pride,” the Riverside Sheriffs’ Association said in a statement. “Our entire community feels the anguish, and we mourn the death of Hunter, who answered the call to serve, defend and protect our nation.”
“Like his parents who serve our community, being a Marine to Hunter wasn’t a job; it was a calling,” the association added.
Lopez’s uncle wrote on Facebook that his nephew “knew since he was 11 what he wanted to do.”
“Every free moment was spent training and perfecting his craft. Hunter you did your job. Rest now,” Lopez’s uncle added.
Marine Corps Lance Cpl. Rylee McCollum
McCollum, 20, of Jackson, Wyoming, had been married for just six months when he was killed in Thursday’s attack in Kabul. Just two months after his wedding in February, he was sent overseas for the first time as the newlyweds were already expecting their first child. Two weeks before the airport attack, McCollum had been transferred to Afghanistan to assist in the evacuation effort.
McCollum’s sister, Roice, told the Post that her brother had wanted to join the military since he was 2 years old.
“He signed up the day he turned 18,” she told the outlet. “That was his plan his whole life.”
Roice also said her family and McCollum’s wife were devastated by his death but “knew he was where he wanted to be: serving his country. And that brings a little bit of peace and comfort.”
McCollum had been a decorated wrestler in high school and joined the Marines after he graduated. He met his wife, Jiennah, in San Diego after he moved for boot camp.
He had thought he would be home in time for his wife to give birth.
McCollum’s other sister, Cheyenne, told the Associated Press that her brother “wanted to be a history teacher and a wrestling coach when he finished serving his country.”
“He’s a tough, kind, loving kid who made an impact on everyone he met. His joke and wit brought so much joy,” she added.
The Casper Star Tribune reported that McCollum was working at one of the Kabul airport checkpoints when the explosion occurred.
Marine Corps Lance Cpl. Dylan R. Merola
Merola, 20, from Rancho Cucamonga, California, was the final name to be confirmed among those killed in Kabul. ABC 7 reported that he had graduated from Los Osos High School and that students at the school honored him during Friday night’s football game.
NBC4 reported that Merola’s mother confirmed his death on Friday evening. His uncle told the outlet that his nephew loved working behind the scenes in theater and being outdoors.
“Dylan loved doing stage set up and technical theater at Los Osos High School in Rancho Cucamonga. He was the kind of person who would always be there for his friends and just enjoyed hanging out with family for family cook nights. They would hike, fish, kayak and spend time just being together. He will be truly missed and always in our hearts,” his uncle said.
Marine Corps Lance Cpl. Kareem Nikoui
Nikoui, 20, of Norco, California, was described by his father as being “devoted” and someone who wanted to “make a career” out of serving.
“He really loved that [Marine Corps] family,” Nikoui’s father said of his son. “He was devoted — he was going to make a career out of this, and he wanted to go. No hesitation for him to be called to duty.”
His father added that Nikoui was stationed at Camp Pendleton, which meant he could easily visit his family on weekends. His mother, Shanna Cappell, wrote on Instagram that “No mother, no parent should ever have to hear that their child is gone.”
The Post reported that Nikoui’s father knew his son was killed as soon as he saw Marines walking up to his home via his cellphone screen linked to the doorbell camera. He knew his son was in Kabul and been watching the evacuation effort closely.
“I’m still in shock. I haven’t been able to grasp everything that’s going on,” he told the Daily Beast. “He was born the same year it started, and ended his life with the end of this war.”
Nikouli’s father also blasted President Joe Biden for the situation in Kabul, telling Reuters he was “really disappointed in the way that the president has handled this, even more so the way the military has handled it.”
Marine Corps Sgt. Johanny Rosario
Rosario, 25, from Lawrence, Massachusetts, was proud of her Dominican roots and proud to serve in the U.S. military.
“We are heartbroken by the death of the service men and women due to the bombing in Kabul this week,” Lawrence Mayor Kendrys Vasquez said in a statement about Rosario’s death. He also told the Post that he had spoken to Rosario’s family and they requested privacy and for her to “be recognized as the hero that she was.”
Rosario’s friends in and out of the Marine Corps posted messages of support for their fallen friend. Nastassia Hyatt, a former Marine who served with Rosario in Okinawa, Japan, called Rosario her “soulmate.”
“You brought me back to life. Back to life… back to life….” Hyatt wrote on Facebook. “I wish i could bring you back to life for just one last hug, one last smile, one last nap, one last meal… one last anything.”
Marine Corps Cpl. Humberto Sanchez
Sanchez, 22, of Logansport, Indiana, loved to make people laugh. Kennedy Rickerd, a friend of Sanchez since elementary school, told the Post that he “was a light that was on 24/7.”
“Everybody loved him,” Rickerd added.
She shared a memory with the post of Sanchez and friends entering a singing competition in 5th grade, where they sang Beyonce’s “All the Single Ladies” and won.
“That’s the kind of person Humberto was, always,” Rickerd told the outlet. “He was constantly joking, constantly laughing, constantly trying to make people smile.”
Logansport Mayor Chris Martin posted on Facebook Friday afternoon that Sanchez was one of those killed in Thursday’s suicide attack.
“This young man had not yet even turned 30 and still had his entire life ahead of him,” Martin wrote. “Any plans he may have had for his post-military life were given in sacrifice due to the heart he exhibited in putting himself into harm’s way to safeguard the lives of others.”
Marine Corps Lance Cpl. Jared Schmitz
Schmitz, 20, of Wentzville, Missouri, also dreamed of being a Marine since he was young.
“This was something he always wanted to do, and I’ve never seen a young man train as hard as he did to be the best soldier he could be,” his father, Mark, told the Post.
His father told KMOX that he learned of his son’s death when he heard a knock at the door in the middle of the night.
“The Marines came by last night at two-forty in the morning to give us the horrific news,” Mark told the outlet.
Mark also told the outlet that his son was on his first deployment.
“His life meant so much more. I’m so incredibly devastated that I won’t be able to see the man that he was very quickly growing into becoming,” he said.
Navy Hospital Corpsman Max Soviak
Soviak, 22, from Berlin Heights, Ohio, had planned to make the Navy his career.
“Max was a wonderful son who loved his family, his community, and was proud to serve in the U.S. Navy. He was excited about the opportunities the Navy would offer him,” his family said in a statement. “We are incredibly proud of his service to our country.”
Soviak graduated from Edison High School in 2017 and was a member of the school’s state-champion wrestling team and football team.
“Max was a good student who was active in sports and other activities throughout his school career. He was well respected and liked by everyone who knew him. Max was full of life in everything he did,” his high school said in a statement.
His parents told the Post that his last words to them were over video chat.
“‘Don’t worry, mom, my guys got me; they won’t let anything happen to me,’” his parents told the Post of his last words. “ … Today she realized that they all just went together.”
Soviak was one of 12 children and the only sailor killed in the suicide attack.
Marine Corps Cpl. Daegan William-Tyeler Page
Page, 23, from Omaha, Nebraska, loved animals and the Chicago Blackhawks. His family said he was looking forward to returning home after serving.
“To his younger siblings, he was their favorite jungle gym and to his friends, he was a genuinely happy guy that you could always count on,” his family said. “After finishing his enlistment, Daegan planned to come home and go to a local trade school, possibly to become a lineman.”
Page was a former Boy Scout who joined the Marines after graduating from Millard South High School. He was also “an avid hunter and outdoorsman,” Stripes reported.
“Daegan always looked forward to coming home and hanging out with his family and many buddies in Nebraska,” his family said in their statement. “Daegan’s girlfriend Jessica, his mom, dad, step-mom, step-dad, 4 siblings, and grandparents are all mourning the loss of a great son, grandson, and brother.”
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