Editor’s note: this story first appeared on Aug. 28, 2021.
A horrific suicide bombing on Aug. 26, 2021, near the Abbey Gate of the Hamid Karzai International Airport in Kabul, Afghanistan killed hundreds of Afghan civilians, 11 U.S. Marines, a Navy corpsman, and an Army special operations soldier. Eighteen American military service members and many more Afghans were wounded in the attack, which took place at a crowded entry gate where U.S. troops were working day and night to rescue Americans and Afghans fleeing the Taliban.
“Terrorists took their lives at the very moment these troops were trying to save the lives of others,” Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin said in a statement at the time. “We mourn their loss. We will treat their wounds. And we will support their families in what will most assuredly be devastating grief.”
However, Austin added, “we will not be dissuaded from the task at hand. To do anything less — especially now — would dishonor the purpose and sacrifice these men and women have rendered our country and the people of Afghanistan.”
Marine Corps Gen. Kenneth McKenzie, the head of U.S. Central Command, attributed the attack to the Islamic State terrorist group operating in Afghanistan. Described as a “complex attack,” it was initiated by a suicide bombing outside of the Abbey Gate where U.S. troops manned checkpoints as Afghan civilians attempted to flee the country.
“The attack on the Abbey Gate was followed by a number of ISIS gunmen, who opened fire on civilians and military forces,” McKenzie told reporters.
The fallen service members were part of Operation Allies Refuge, the mission to evacuate American citizens and Afghans who assisted the U.S. and its allies during their 20-year war in Afghanistan. Earlier that month, Afghan President Ashraf Ghani fled the country, the Afghan security forces collapsed, and the Taliban quickly took Kabul. Withdrawing U.S. forces and the Taliban then entered into an uneasy truce in Kabul, with Taliban fighters cordoning off the streets leading to the airport as American troops manned checkpoints leading inside.
Prior to the Abbe Gate bombing, the last U.S. service members to die in Afghanistan by hostile fire were Sgt. 1st Class Antonio Rodriguez and Sgt. 1st Class Javier Gutierrez, two Army Special Forces soldiers who were killed by Afghan soldiers in a green-on-blue incident in Nangarhar Province on Feb. 8, 2020. For the Marine Corps, the bombing represented the first loss of life in Afghanistan in two years. The last occurred on April 8, 2019, when three Marine reservists were killed by a roadside bomb in Bagram.
“These fallen heroes answered the call to go into harm’s way to do the honorable work of helping others,” said. Gen. David H. Berger, the commandant of the Marine Corps. “We are proud of their service and deeply saddened by their loss. As we mourn, we also keep those who are still over there protecting Americans and our Afghan partners at the forefront of our thoughts. Our Marines will continue the mission, carrying on our Corps’ legacy of always standing ready to meet the challenges of every extraordinary task our Nation requires of her Marines. I am continually humbled by the courage and warrior spirit exhibited every day by Marines across the globe. The sacrifices Marines make on behalf of freedom must never go unnoticed or unappreciated. I ask that you keep these Marines and service members, and especially their families, in your thoughts and prayers.”
The names and photos of the 13 killed in the Abbey Gate bombing are listed below:
Marine Lance Cpl. David Lee Espinoza
Espinoza, a 20-year-old from Rio Bravo, Texas, was identified as one of the fallen by Rep. Henry Cuellar (D-Texas) the day after the bombing. Cuellar tweeted that Espinoza “embodied the values of America: grit, dedication, service, and valor.” He was an infantry rifleman assigned to the 2nd Battalion, 1st Marine Regiment at Camp Pendleton, California.
“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 added. “I mourn him and all the fallen heroes in Afghanistan. My heart goes out to the Espinoza family in this extremely difficult time. The brave never die. Mr. Espinoza is a hero.”
His mother, Elizabeth Holguin, told the Laredo Morning Times: “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.”
Marine Sgt. Nicole Gee
Gee, a 23-year-old from Roseville, California, had been spotted in publicly-released photos in the days before the bombing escorting Afghan evacuees along the flight line to military aircraft. The maintenance technician assigned to the 24th Marine Expeditionary Unit’s Combat Logistics Battalion-24 had recently been meritoriously promoted and was described as a “model Marine.”
In a post on her Instagram of her cradling a child prior to the bombing, Gee wrote, “I love my job.”
“I find peace knowing that she left this world doing what she loved,” a friend wrote on Facebook. “She was a Marine’s Marine. She cared about people. She loved fiercely. She was a light in this dark world. She was my person.”
Marine Staff Sgt. Taylor Hoover
Hoover, a 31-year-old from Salt Lake City, Utah, spent his entire adult life as a Marine after graduating high school in 2008. He was assigned to the 2nd Battalion, 1st Marine Regiment.
His father called him a “true hero” who “did what he loved doing, serving the United States.”
“Always a smile. Always respectful. A joy to be around. He is adored beyond measure. The world has lost a true light. Our hearts are broken. Shock, disbelief, horror, sadness, sorrow, anger and grief,” his aunt Brittany Jones Barnett wrote on Facebook, according to Deseret News. “Thank you sweet boy for the ultimate sacrifice. For giving your life for us all. Fighting for freedom and giving absolutely everything you had. You will never ever be forgotten. We love you so much.”
Army Staff Sgt. Ryan Knauss
Knauss, a 23-year-old special operations soldier from Corryton, Tennesee, was assigned to the Army’s 9th Psychological Operations Battalion out of Fort Bragg, North Carolina.
His stepmother told WBIR-TV the soldier loved to laugh, help his wife Alena in the garden, and enjoyed building things with his hands. He joined the military after graduating high school in 2016.
“Our teammate died not only serving our nation, but helping to give others a life of freedom and opportunity,” the 1st Special Forces Command wrote on Twitter. “The sacrifices made by our soldiers and families over the past 20 years were not in vain, and our mission in Afghanistan is not yet over.”
Marine Cpl. Hunter Lopez
Lopez, a 22-year-old from Indio, California, was the son of two members of the Riverside County Sherriff’s Department and had planned on following in his parents’ footsteps after deployment, according to the department. He was assigned to the 2nd Battalion, 1st Marine Regiment.
“Hunter was the victim of vicious evil and was killed because he wore a United States Marnie uniform with love and pride,” the Riverside County Sheriff’s 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. 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 — Semper Fi.”
Marine Lance Cpl. Rylee McCollum
McCollum, a 20-year-old from Jackson, Wyoming, had just been married the previous February and was expecting his first child, according to The Washington Post. Just a baby during the attacks of Sept. 11, his sister told the paper that McCollum had wanted to join the military since he was just two years old. “He signed up the day he turned 18,” Roice McCollum said. “That was his plan his whole life.”
“I lost my best friend,” his wife wrote on Facebook. “And nothing will ever make that hurt less. He would’ve been the best dad. I wish he could see how much of an impact he made on this world. I’m so proud to call him my husband.”
McCollum was assigned to the 2nd Battalion, 1st Marine Regiment.
Marine Lance Cpl. Dylan R. Merola
Merola, a 20-year-old from Rancho Cucamonga, California, was assigned to the 2nd Battalion, 1st Marine Regiment.
“Dylan loved doing stage set up and technical theater at Los Osos High School in Rancho Cucamonga,” his uncle told NBC Los Angeles. “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.”
Marine Lance Cpl. Kareem Nikoui
Nikoui, a 20-year-old from Norco, California, loved the Marine Corps “family” and wanted to “make a career out this,” his father told The Daily Beast. Nikoui graduated from Norco High School in 2019 before joining the Marines.
“He was devoted … No hesitation for him to be called to duty,” Steve Nikoui said of his son, who was assigned to the 2nd Battalion, 1st Marine Regiment. The father later told Reuters that he was angry with President Joe Biden over what happened.
“I’m really disappointed in the way that the president has handled this, even more so the way the military has handled it,” Nikoui told Reuters. “The commanders on the ground should have recognized this threat and addressed it.”
Marine Sgt. Johanny Rosariopichardo
Rosariopichardo, a 25-year-old from Lawrence, Massachusetts, was assigned to the 5th Marine Expeditionary Brigade in Bahrain.
Lawrence Mayor Kendrys Vasquez said in a statement to the Boston Globe that she had been in touch with the Rosariopichardo family. They asked for privacy and that “their loved one be recognized as the hero that she was.”
Marine Cpl. Humberto Sanchez
Sanchez, a 22-year-old from Logansport, Indiana, was remembered as a man who risked “it all to protect others” in a post by the Logansport Community School Corporation. Sanchez graduated from Logansport High School in 2017 before joining the Marine Corps. He was assigned to the 2nd Battalion, 1st Marine Regiment.
“I can’t believe it,” the wife of a Marine she said was best friends with Sanchez wrote on Facebook. “My heart is heavy today and every day on.”
Marine Lance Cpl. Jared Schmitz
Schmitz, a 20-year-old from St. Charles, Missouri, was on his first deployment with 2nd Battalion, 1st Marine Regiment at the time of his death.
“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,” his father Mark Schmitz told KMOX Radio 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.”
Navy Hospitalman Maxton “Max” Soviak
Soviak, a 22-year-old sailor from Berlin Heights, Ohio, was serving as a medic with the 1st Marine Regiment out of Camp Pendleton, California.
In a post on Instagram before his death, Soviak posed alongside two Marines who also died in the bombing. “It’s kill or be killed, definitely trynna be on the kill side,” he wrote in the caption.
His sister described him in a post on Instagram as a “beautiful, intelligent, beat-to-the-sound of his own drum, annoying, charming baby brother” who died helping to save lives.
“He was a fucking medic. There to help people. And now he is gone and my family will never be the same. There is a large Maxton sized hole that will never be filled. He was just a kid. We are sending kids over there to die. Kids with families that now have holes just like ours. I’m not one for praying but damn could those kids over there use some right now. My heart is in pieces and I don’t think they’ll ever fit back right again.”
Marine Cpl. Daegan William-Tyeler Page
Page, a 23-year-old from Omaha, Nebraska, was described by his family as a “genuinely happy guy that you could always count on.” The infantry rifleman assigned to the 2nd Battalion, 1st Marine Regiment was planning to leave the Marine Corps and go trade school.
“Daegan always looked forward to coming home and hanging out with his family and many buddies in Nebraska,” the family said in a statement released to the Omaha World-Herald.
“Daegan will always be remembered for his tough outer shell and giant heart. 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.”
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