Heart-wrenching details have emerged about some of the 13 U.S. troops killed in a horrific suicide bombing at Afghanistan’s Kabul airport, which also claimed the lives of more than 160 Afghans.
Lance Cpl. David Espinoza, 20, of the 2nd Battalion, 1st Marine Regiment
“He was a great kid,” said Elizabeth Holguin about her son David Espinoza, who grew up in Rio Bravo, Texas.
Espinoza's family said serving in the military was all he ever wanted to do.
Sgt. Nicole Gee, 23
Sacramento native Nicole Gee entered active duty in the Marines in 2017. In a recent Instagram post from Kabul, she can be seen holding a child in her arms, with the caption, “I love my job.”
Gee, 23, of Sacramento, California, was a maintenance technician with the 24th Marine Expeditionary Unit from Camp Lejeune in North Carolina.
Brig. Gen. Forrest C. Poole III, commanding general of 2nd Marine Logistics Group, said his unit mourned “the immense loss of Sgt. Gee,” and the others.
Sgt. Mallory Harrison, who lived with Gee for three years, wrote about how hard the death hit her.
“I can’t quite describe the feeling I get when I force myself to come back to reality & think about how I’m never going to see her again,” Harrison wrote on Facebook. “How her last breath was taken doing what she loved — helping people. … Then there was an explosion. And just like that, she’s gone.”
Gee’s Instagram page shows another photo of her in fatigues, holding a rifle next to a line of people walking into the belly of a large transport plane. She wrote: “escorting evacuees onto the bird.”
Photos show her on a camel in Saudi Arabia, in a bikini on a Greek isle and holding a beer in Spain. One from this month in Kuwait shows her beaming with her meritorious promotion to sergeant.
Staff Sgt. Taylor Hoover, 31, of the 2nd Battalion, 1st Marine Regiment
Those who knew him best say Taylor Hoover lived larger than life. His father said he knew early on that his son was a natural-born leader.
“He was a rambunctious little kid,” Darin Hoover said. “He started Little League football at the age of 8 and didn’t stop till his senior year of high school. It’s going to be hard living without him, but we know he died doing exactly what he wanted to do. He went out his way.”
Hoover was 31 years old -- a Marine for 11 years -- from Salt Lake City. He was on his third tour of duty.
Army Staff Sgt. Ryan Knauss, 23
Army Staff Sgt. Ryan Knauss was remembered as a funny man who loved his country and was looking forward to coming home and moving to Washington, D.C., relatives told WATE-TV in Knoxville, Tennessee.
“He was a super-smart hilarious young man,” stepmother Linnae Knauss said.
Knauss had been stationed at Fort Bragg, North Carolina, and he was part of the 9th Psychological Operations Battalion, 8th Psychological Operations Group, the Defense Department said.
“A motivated young man who loved his country,” his grandfather, Wayne Knauss, told the TV station. “He was a believer, so we will see him again in God’s heaven.”
Cpl. Hunter Lopez, 22, of the 2nd Battalion, 1st Marine Regiment
Hunter Lopez was from California's Coachella Valley. He also played soccer and volunteered for the La Quinta AYS0.
Lopez was a member of the Riverside County Sheriff’s Explorer Program for three years before joining the Marine Corps in September 2017, said Sheriff Chad Bianco.
Bianco said Lopez planned to follow in his parents' footsteps and become a Riverside County Sheriff's Deputy after his deployment.
Lance Cpl. Rylee McCollum, 20, of the 2nd Battalion, 1st Marine Regiment
Rylee J. McCollum, a Marine and native of Bondurant, Wyoming, was married and his wife is expecting a baby in three weeks, his sister, Cheyenne McCollum, said.
“He was so excited to be a dad, and he was going to be a great dad," McColllum said. She said her brother “was a Marine before he knew he was allowed to be a Marine ... He’d carry around his toy rifle and wear his sister’s pink princess snow boots and he’d either be hunting or he was a Marine. Sometimes it would be with nothing on underneath, just a T-shirt.”
McColllum said her brother wanted to be a history teacher and a wrestling coach once he completed his service. Another sister, Roice McColllum, told the Casper Star Tribune that her brother was on his first deployment when the evacuation in Afghanistan began.
“We want to make sure that people know that these are the kids that are sacrificing themselves, and he’s got a family who loves him and a wife who loves him and a baby that he’ll never get to meet,” Cheyenne McCollum said.
Regi Stone, the father of one of Rylee McCollum’s friends, described McCollum as “a good kid,” who was resilient, smart and courageous. Stone shared a note that his wife, Kim, sent to their son Eli Stone, who is also in the military and deployed elsewhere. In the note, Kim wrote that she remembered telling the friends to run the other way if they had to go in first and that both of them said, “If we die doing this, we die doing what we love.”
Lance Cpl. Dylan Merola, 20, of the 2nd Battalion, 1st Marine Regiment
In his last message home, Lance Cpl. Dylan Merola told his mother he wouldn’t be able to speak to her for a while because he was being moved to a new location in Afghanistan.
“I love you and I’ll talk to you as soon as I get home,” were his final words, Cheryl Merola told KCAL-TV.
Merola, from Rancho Cucamonga, California, had only been in the country less than two weeks when he was killed, family members said.
He planned to study engineering in college after his military service.
Before the football game Friday at his alma mater, Los Osos High School, fans were told the school had received “devastating news” and a moment of silence was observed in his honor.
A GoFundMe account for his funeral had far exceeded its goal of $15,000 by Saturday afternoon.
“Dylan was a beloved son, brother, grandson, great grandson, nephew, a great friend, and a brave soldier who paid the ultimate sacrifice at the Abbey Gate at Hamid Karzai International Airport during the evacuation,” the announcement said.
His tearful mother said he was “one of the best kids ever.”
“Kind loving, giving to every single person,” she said. “He would give anything for anybody.”
Lance Cpl. Kareem Nikoui, 20, of the 2nd Battalion, 1st Marine Regiment
The Southern California city of Norco confirmed the death of Kareem Mae’Lee Grant Nikoui. The city said Friday in a post on social media that Nikoui is survived by his parents and siblings, and his name will be enshrined on a memorial wall in the city.
Norco Mayor Kevin Bash said he learned of Nikoui's death Friday morning from a family member.
“He was a good kid, very quiet,” said Bash, adding that “his goal in life was to be in the service.”
The Norco High School Air Force JROTC posted on Facebook that Nikoui was “one of our best Air Force JROTC cadets” and that “Kareem was set on being a Marine & always wanted to serve his country.”
Cpl. Daegan Page, 23, of the 2nd Battalion, 1st Marine Regiment
Daegan William-Tyeler Page also served in the 2nd Battalion, 1st Marine Regiment based at Camp Pendleton and planned to go to trade school and possibly become a lineman after his enlistment ended, his family said in a statement.
Page was raised in Red Oak, Iowa, and in the Omaha metro area and joined the Marines after graduating from Millard South High School. He is mourned by his girlfriend, parents, stepmom and stepdad, four siblings and grandparents, the family said in a statement released by a family friend. The statement said the family did not wish to speak to the media at this time.
“Daegan will always be remembered for his tough outer shell and giant heart,” the statement said. ”Our hearts are broken, but we are thankful for the friends and family who are surrounding us during this time. Our thoughts and prayers are also with the other Marine and Navy families whose loved ones died alongside Daegan.”
U.S. Rep. Don Bacon, a Republican from Nebraska, said in a statement that he was heartbroken to learn of Page’s death. "Corporal Page is an American hero who gave the last full measure of devotion. He served his country honorably, and his service will never be in vain.”
Cpl. Humberto Sanchez, 22. of the 2nd Battalion, 1st Marine Regiment
The 22-year-old from Northwest Indiana left a lasting impression in his hometown of less than 20,000 people. Humberto Sanchez's high school principal, Matt Jones, of Logansport High School, released a statement calling Sanchez “a bright, athletic young man who was popular, well-liked by his soccer teammates, classmates, coaches and teachers.”
Sanchez, 22, was a U.S. Marine Corps corporal from Logansport, Indiana.
"Few among us answer a call of duty so dangerous as Corporal Sanchez volunteered to do," Gov. Eric J. Holcomb said in a statement Saturday, according to NBC News. "In doing so, he made the ultimate sacrifice so others could live and find freedom."
Logansport Mayor Chris Martin said on Facebook that Sanchez "still had his entire life ahead of him."
"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," he said.
Lance Cpl. Jared Schmitz, 20, of the 2nd Battalion, 1st Marine Regiment
Jared Schmitz, 20, grew up in the St. Louis area.
His father told KMOX Radio that his son was among a group of Marines sent back to Afghanistan to assist with evacuation efforts.
“This was something he always wanted to do, and I never seen a young man train as hard as he did to be the best soldier he could be,” Mark Schmitz said, according to The Associated Press. “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.”
Navy Hospitalman Maxton Soviak, 22, also stationed at Camp Pendleton
Maxton Soviak, from Berlington Heights, Ohio, played football in high school. Friends who served with him remember the Navy medic as someone whose energy was unmatched.
“He’s a hero,” said Navy Corpsman Davis Sutton. “He made that sacrifice -- the ultimate sacrifice”
The Soviak family issued the following statement:
On behalf of the entire Soviak family, we want to thank all those who have extended their support and prayers on the loss of our son, Max.
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 and planned to make the Navy a career. We are incredibly proud of his service to our country.
As we mourn the loss of our son, we also mourn for the loss of the Marines and Soldier who were killed and pray for the speedy recovery of all of those wounded in Afghanistan.
Words cannot express how heartbroken we are with this news and we will miss Max tremendously. As you can imagine, this is a very difficult time for our family and we respectfully request that you honor our privacy.
NBC 7 spoke with two of Soviak's friends who said, "He's a hero, he made that sacrifice, the ultimate sacrifice. I just hope he was happy wasn't in any distress."
Sgt. Johanny Rosario, 25
Johanny Rosario Pichardo was being mourned in the Massachusetts mill town of Lawrence she called home, the state’s capital and her birthplace in the Dominican Republic.
“We will not allow her to be forgotten,” said Jaime Melendez, director of veterans services in Lawrence, where Rosario attended high school.
Rosario served with the Naval Amphibious Force, Task Force 51/5th Marine Expeditionary Brigade, which praised her work as supply chief this spring.
Sonia Guzmán, the Dominican Republic’s ambassador to the United States, tweeted that the Caribbean nation shares in the loss.
“Peace to your soul!” she tweeted in Spanish.
The Associated Press contributed to this report -- Ed.