The Department of Defense Saturday identified all of the U.S. service members killed in a terrorist bomb attack.
One bomb went off near the Abbey Gate of U.S.-held Hamid Karzai International Airport in Kabul, Afghanistan, late on Aug. 26 local time. Pentagon officials said that 11 Marines, one Navy corpsman, and one U.S. Army soldiers were killed by the suicide bombing. At least another 18 service members were wounded.
The deaths mark the first U.S. military combat-related deaths in Afghanistan since February 2020.
The terrorist group ISIS claimed responsibility for the attack, bragging about a suicide bomber “managing to penetrate all the security fortifications” put into place by U.S. forces and the Taliban.
The ISIS terrorist “managed to reach a large gathering of translators and collaborators with the American army, and then he detonated his explosive belt,” the group said in a statement. It claimed the attacker was able to get within five meters of U.S. troops at an eastern gate to the airport. Another explosion struck a nearby hotel, the Pentagon said.
President Joe Biden said on Thursday that the United States would strike ISIS in retaliation for the bombings.
The U.S. military carried out a counterterrorism drone strike against a member of the ISIS-K terrorist group in Afghanistan early on Saturday local time, according to U.S. Central Command.
In a statement, CENTCOM spokesman Capt. Bill Urban said that the U.S. military forces “conducted an over-the-horizon counterterrorism operation today against an ISIS-K planner.”
The Pentagon released the names of the 13 service members without details on their background. The Epoch Times has reached out to U.S. Marine Corps, U.S. Navy, and U.S. Army for more information.
David L. Espinoza, 20, Texas
Marine Corps Lance Corporal David L. Espinoza, a Marine from Laredo, Texas, joined the military after high school and was 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.
Espinoza’s death was confirmed earlier by Rep. Henry Cuellar (R-Texas). The congressman’s press secretary, Dana Youngentob, said Pentagon representatives visited Cuellar’s Washington office to inform him of Espinoza’s death. Cuellar’s office also received an official death notice from the Pentagon.
In a statement, 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.”
Nicole L. Gee, 23, California
Marine Corps Sgt. Nicole L. Gee is a native of Sacramento, California. In an Instagram account that apparently belongs to her, Gee posted a photo on Aug. 21, five days before the terrorist attack, showing her holding a baby. “I love my job,” she wrote.
Another Instagram post—which is also the last one before her death—shows her evacuating Afghans to the airplane.
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Darin T. Hoover, 31, Utah
Marine Corps Staff Sergeant Darin T. 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 Sr. 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 Sr., 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 Sr. 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.
Ryan C. Knauss, 23, Tennessee
Army Staff Sgt. Ryan C. Knauss was remembered as a motivated man who loved his country and was looking forward to coming back to the United States and eventually moving to Washington, 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 United States.
“He was a super-smart hilarious young man,” she said.
Hunter Lopez, 22, California
Marine Corps Corporal Hunter Lopez, whose parents work at the Riverside County Sheriff’s Department in Southern California, was a sheriff’s Explorer for three years before joining the Marine Corps in September 2017, Sheriff Chad Bianco said.
Bianco said Lopez planned to follow in his parents’ footsteps and become a Riverside County Sheriff’s Deputy after his deployment.
Dylan R. Merola, 20, California
Marine Corps Lance Cpl. Dylan R. Merola is a native of Rancho Cucamonga, California.
“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,” Merola’s uncle said in a statement obtained by NBC Los Angeles.
Rylee J. McCollum, 20, Wyoming
Marine Corps Lance Corporal 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,” 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.”
Kareem M. Nikoui, 20, California
Marine Corps Lance Corporal Kareem M. 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 Junior Reserve Officers’ Training Corps (JROTC). 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.
Daegan W. Page, 23, Nebraska
Marine Corps Corporal Daegan W. Page served in the 2nd Battalion, 1st Marine Regiment based at Camp Pendleton, California, and planned to go to a 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, Nebraska, 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.”
Johanny Rosariopichardo, 25, Massachusetts
Marine Corps Sergeant Johanny Rosariopichardo, a native of Lawrence, Massachusetts, graduated from Lawrence High School, Boston 25 News reported.
Lawrence School Committee member Jonathan Guzman said Rosariopichardo was “a wonderful person with a kind heart.”
“It hurts to see a classmate, a friend, an LHS alumni, a young lady, a proud Lawrencian, a wonderful person with a kind heart taken from this world by the hands of hatred!” Guzman wrote in a Facebook post. “Johanny Rosario, your city will honor you! That is a promise! Thank you for your patriotic service! My heart goes out to your family during this unwelcome event, as well as the other 12 soldiers who died in Afghanistan.”
Humberto A. Sanchez, Indiana
Marine Corps Corporal Humberto A. Sanchez from Logansport, Indiana, was a graduate of Logansport High School, WLWT News reported.
Both Mayor Chris Martin and the Logansport Community School Corporation confirmed the news on Facebook Friday, though Martin did not identify Sanchez by name.
“Our corporation mourns the loss of US Marine Humberto Sanchez, a graduate of Logansport High School … Our deepest condolences are with the Sanchez Family and the entire Cass County community,” the Logansport Community School Corporation wrote in a Facebook post.
“[It’s] even more heartbreaking is learning the news today that one of those killed was from right here at home in Logansport, Indiana,” Martin wrote in a Facebook post. “This young man had not yet even turned 30 and 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.”
Jared M. Schmitz, 20, Missouri
Marine Corps Lance Corporal Jared M. 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.”
Maxton W. Soviak, 22, Ohio
U.S. Navy Hospitalman Maxton W. Soviak from Berlin Heights, Ohio, was a graduate of Edison High School.
“Our nation mourns the loss of Navy Corpsman Max Soviak, whose uncommon courage in the face of unfathomable danger ensured the safe passage of countless civilians. We will never be able to repay the debt we owe him, but we will be forever grateful for his willingness to serve when America needed him most. Our hearts go out to his family during this time, and we lift them up in prayer that they may find comfort in his memory,” Rep. Marcy Kaptur (D-Ohio) said in a statement.
Edison High School Superintendent Thomas C. Roth said Maxton was “well respected and liked by everyone who knew him.”
“Max was full of life in everything he did. Our schools and local community are mourning the loss of Max. He and his family are in all of our thoughts and prayers,” he wrote in a letter obtained by Action News.
The story has been updated to reflect the latest information released by the Department of Defense.
Mimi Nguyen Ly, Zachary Stieber, and The Associated Press contributed to this report.