Troops killed in Kabul attack include Marine who cradled baby in viral photo; soon-to-be dad

Before she was killed, Nicole Gee posted a photo of her cradling a baby at the Kabul airport with the caption "I love my job."
A woman who cradled a baby in her arms at the airport and posted on social media that she loved her job. A young husband with a child on the way. Another man who always wanted to be in the military. A man who planned to become a sheriff's deputy when his deployment ended. 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.

Eleven Marines, one Navy sailor and one Army soldier were among the dead, while 18 other U.S. service members were wounded in Thursday's bombing, which was blamed on Afghanistan's offshoot of the Islamic State group. The U.S. said it was the most lethal day for American forces in Afghanistan since 2011. The White House said President Joe Biden will look for opportunities to honor the service members who lost their lives, many of whom were men in their early 20s.

PHOTO GALLERY: Military members killed in Kabul attack


The Marines' names are: Staff Sgt. Darin T. Hoover, 31, of Salt Lake City, Utah; Sgt. Johanny Rosariopichardo, 25, of Lawrence, Massachusetts; Sgt. Nicole L. Gee, 23, of Sacramento, California; Cpl. Hunter Lopez, 22, of Indio, California; Cpl. Daegan W. Page, 23, of Omaha, Nebraska; Cpl. Humberto A. Sanchez, 22, of Logansport, Indiana; Lance Cpl. David L. Espinoza, 20, of Rio Bravo, Texas; Lance Cpl. Jared M. Schmitz, 20, of St. Charles, Missouri; Lance Cpl. Rylee J. McCollum, 20, of Jackson, Wyoming; Lance Cpl. Dylan R. Merola, 20, of Rancho Cucamonga, California; and Lance Cpl. Kareem M. Nikoui, 20, of Norco, California.

The deceased also include Navy Hospitalman Maxton W. Soviak, 22, of Berlin Heights, Ohio, and Army Staff Sgt. Ryan C. Knauss, 23, of Corryton, Tennessee.

Here are the stories of the victims and the people who are mourning them:

Nicole Gee, 23

This photo posted Aug. 20, 2021 shows Sgt. Nicole Gee holding a baby at Hamid Karzai International Airport in Kabul, Afghanistan.

U.S. Department of Defense via AP


A week before she was killed, Sgt. Nicole Gee cradled a baby in her arms at the Kabul airport. She posted the photo on Instagram and wrote, "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.

Sgt. Mallory Harrison, who lived with Gee for three years and called her a "sister forever" and best friend, wrote about the magnitude of her loss.

"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."

The social media account that includes many selfies after working out at the gym lists her location as California, North Carolina and "somewhere overseas."

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.

Harrison said her generation of Marines hears war stories from veterans of the Iraq and Afghanistan conflicts, but they seem distant amid boring deployments until "the peaceful float you were on turns into ... your friends never coming home."

Gee's car was still parked in a lot at Camp Lejeune and Harrison mused about all the Marines who walked past it while she was overseas.

"Some of them knew her. Some of them didn't." she said. "They all walked past it. The war stories, the losses, the flag-draped coffins, the KIA bracelets & the heartbreak. It's not so distant anymore."

Rylee McCollum, 20

This Dec. 2019 photo provided by Regi Stone shows Eli Stone, left, and Rylee McCollum, at Christmas in Stone's house in Jackson, Wyo.

Regi Stone via AP


Rylee 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," McCollum 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."



McCollum said her brother wanted to be a history teacher and a wrestling coach once he completed his service. Another sister, Roice McCollum, 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."

EMBED More News Videos

Several U.S. Marines were among those killed in the Kabul airport attack, the Pentagon said Thursday.



Kareem Mae'Lee Grant Nikoui, 20


Lance Corporal Kareem Mae'Lee Grant Nikoui, of Norco, California, sent videos to his family hours before he died, showing himself interacting with children in Afghanistan. In one of the clips, he asked a young boy to say hello.

"Want to take a video together buddy?" Nikoui said, leaning in to take a video of himself with the boy. "All right, we're heroes now, man."

Close family friend Paul Arreola said the videos show "the heart of this young man, the love he has."

"The family is just heartbroken," he said. Arreola described Nikoui as an "amazing young man" full of promise who always wanted to be a Marine and set out to achieve his goal. He is survived by his parents and three siblings.

"He loved this country and everything we stand for. It's just so hard to know that we've lost him," he said, crying.

Nikoui was also in the JROTC, and the Norco High School Air Force JROTC posted on Facebook that he was "one of our best Air Force JROTC cadets" and that "Kareem was set on being a Marine & always wanted to serve his country."

The city of Norco said Friday in a post on social media that Nikoui's name will be enshrined on a memorial wall in the city.

Max Soviak


Navy Fleet Marine Force Hospital Corpsman Max Soviak, of Ohio, was "very proud" to serve his country, his mother said in a statement to ABC News.

"He was very passionate about helping his fellow Americans and trying to get them home safely," Rachel Soviak said. "There are no words to describe the pain our family is feeling. There will forever be a hole in our hearts."

The family is praying for the troops to arrive home safely, she said.

Max Soviak was a 2017 graduate of Edison High School in Milan, Ohio. School leaders remembered him as "full of life in everything he did."

"Max was a good student who was active in sports and other activities throughout his school career," Superintendent Thomas Roth said in a statement. "He was well respected and liked by everyone who knew him."

He leaves behind 12 brothers and sisters "that are all hurting terribly," according to a family statement.

"His final words to his mother over FaceTime when he was telling her goodbye was after she told him to be safe, were, 'don't worry mom, my guys got me. They won't let anything happen to me,'" the statement read.

Jared Schmitz, 20


Marine Lance Corporal Jared Schmitz grew up in the St. Louis area and was among a group of Marines sent back to Afghanistan to assist with evacuation efforts, his father, Mark Schmitz, told KMOX Radio.

Mark Schmitz said his son always wanted to be a Marine. He said he learned of his son's death when the Marines came to his home in Wentzville, Missouri, at 2:40 a.m. Friday.

"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," Schmitz said of his son. "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."

Taylor Hoover, 31


Staff Sgt. Taylor Hoover, of Utah, had been in the Marines for 11 years and was remembered as a hero who died serving others, his father Darin Hoover said.

"He is a hero. He gave his life protecting those that can't protect themselves, doing what he loved serving his country," said Darin Hoover, who lives in a Salt Lake City suburb.

He said he heard from Marines throughout the day Friday who said they are grateful they had his son as their sergeant.

"They look back on him and say that they've learned so much from him," Darin Hoover said. "One heck of a leader."

His father said his son was also a best friend to his two sisters and loved all his extended family. He had a girlfriend in California and was the kind of guy who "lit up a room" when he came in, his father said.

Nate Thompson of Murray, Utah, first met Hoover when they were 10 years old in Little League football. They stayed friends through high school, where Hoover played lineman. He was undersized for the position, but his heart and hard work more than made up for what he lacked in statute, Thompson said. As a friend, he was selfless and kind.

"If we had trouble with grades, trouble with family or trouble on the field, we always called Taylor. He's always level-headed, even if he's struggling himself," he said.

Johanny Rosario Pichardo, 25


Sgt. 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.

Daegan William-Tyeler Page, 23


Corporal Daegan William-Tyeler Page served in the 2nd Battalion, 1st Marine Regiment based at Camp Pendleton, California, 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."

Ryan Knauss, 23

EMBED More News Videos

"Our teammate died not only serving our nation, but helping to give others a life of freedom and opportunity."


Army Staff Sgt. Ryan Knauss was remembered as a motivated man who loved his country and was looking forward to coming back to the U.S. and eventually moving to Washington, D.C., family members told WATE-TV in Knoxville, Tennessee.

Knauss' grandfather, Wayne Knauss, told the television station that the family received word of Knauss's death on Friday, and funeral services were being planned. Knauss said his grandson attended Gibbs High School and grew up in a Christian home.

"A motivated young man who loved his country," Wayne Knauss said. "He was a believer, so we will see him again in God's heaven."

Stepmother Linnae Knauss said Ryan planned to move to Washington after he returned to the U.S.

"He was a super-smart hilarious young man," she said.

He is survived by his wife.

Hunter Lopez, 22


Marine Cpl. Hunter Lopez was the son of two members of the Riverside County Sheriff's Department in Southern California -- Capt. Herman Lopez and Deputy Alicia Lopez -- the department said.

The 22-year-old planned on "following his parents' footsteps" and becoming a deputy himself upon returning home from his deployment, Sheriff Chad Bianco said in a Facebook post announcing his death.

As a teen, Lopez was a Riverside Sheriff's Explorer Scout with the Palm Desert Station. After graduating from La Quinta High School, he joined the Marine Corps in September 2017, Bianco said.

"Like his parents who serve our community, being a Marine to Hunter wasn't a job; it was a calling," the Riverside Sheriff's Association said in a statement. "He loved his family, and as we grieve for Hunter and his fellow Marines taken from us too soon, there are simply no words to express how deeply he will be missed."

His family is requesting all donations be made to the Riverside County Deputy Sheriff Relief Foundation in their name.

David Lee Espinoza, 20


Lance Corporal David Lee Espinoza, a Marine from Laredo, Texas, joined the military after high school, and was being remembered as a hero by his mother.

"He was just brave enough to go do what he wanted and to help out people. That's who he was, he was just perfect," his mother, Elizabeth Holguin. told the Laredo Morning Times.

In a statement, U.S. Rep. Henry Cuellar said Espinoza "embodied the values of America: grit, dedication, service, and valor. When he joined the military after high school, he did so with the intention of protecting our nation and demonstrating his selfless acts of service."

Cuellar concluded, "The brave never die. Mr. Espinoza is a hero."

Humberto Sanchez, 22


Marine Cpl. Humberto Sanchez was among 17 members of his Indiana high school class who joined the military after graduation.

Sanchez played on Logansport High School's varsity soccer team and was in the homecoming court his senior year, Principal Matt Jones said. Jones called Sanchez a dedicated artist who took many art classes along with honors and dual credit college courses.

"Humberto was a bright, athletic young man who was popular, well-liked by his soccer teammates, classmates, coaches and teachers," Jones said. "He was honored to be putting on the Marine uniform and serving his country."

Dylan Merola, 20


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."

___

ABC News contributed to this report.

___

Associated Press writers Terry Wallace in Dallas, Lindsay Whitehurst and Brady McCombs in Salt Lake City and Darlene Superville in Washington, D.C., contributed to this report.
Copyright © 2021 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.