Rylee McCollum was identified as one of the 13 U.S. Marines and service members who were killed in Kabul, Afghanistan, in an airport attack on August 26, 2021. McCollum, who was expected to become a father in three weeks, was remembered as “the definition of courage.”
Chi McCollum, his sister, wrote on Facebook, “Rylee James. My heart is completely shattered. I love you so much. You are my hero and you were going to be the best dad. I love you, I love you, I love you… Semper Fi.”
Read a roundup of tributes and photos of all of the American service members who died here.
On August 19, she wrote, “I’m thankful everyday you are my brother. Stay safe, we love you. Can’t wait for your return and to meet my niece or nephew. Love you Brotato 💗🇺🇸🦅⚓️🌎” He was from Bondurant, Wyoming.
“We are deeply saddened by the loss of this brave Marine,” Regi Stone wrote on Facebook.
“When it comes to the definition of courage, Rylee Mccollum is it. We were fortunate to have him in our home in Wyoming many times as he and Eli were getting ready to enlist together. They kept each other out of trouble, which wasn’t easy, because they were both so ready to serve their country. One evening as we were all having dinner, Kim tried giving her best motherly advice and suggested that they let someone else go in first if the time ever came. Without hesitating, they both said, “if anything ever happens to us, just know, we were doing what we loved. We’re heartbroken but proud to have known this brave hero. Please pray for his family, his wife and new baby that will be born soon. And, let’s keep all his Marine brothers in our prayer. Semper Fi.”
It’s believed that ISIS is behind the attack.
John Kirby, the Pentagon Press Secretary, confirmed in a statement that “a number of U.S. service members were killed in today’s complex attack at Kabul airport. A number of others are being treated for wounds. We also know that a number of Afghans fell victim to this heinous attack. Our thoughts and prayers go out to the loved ones and teammates of all those killed and injured.” The number of American deaths was later confirmed to be 13 with 18 others wounded.
Here’s what you need to know about Rylee McCollum:
1. Wyoming’s Governor Declared Himself ‘Devastated to Learn Wyoming Lost One of Our Own’
Wyoming’s Governor Mark Gordon confirmed McCollum’s death on Facebook.
“I’m devastated to learn Wyoming lost one of our own in yesterday’s terrorist attack in Kabul, Afghanistan,” he wrote.
“Our thoughts and prayers are with the family and friends of U.S. Marine Rylee McCollum of Bondurant. Jennie and I, along with all of Wyoming and the entire nation, thank Rylee for his service.”
2. McCollum, Who Wanted to Be a Marine ‘His Entire Life,’ Was Expecting a Baby in Three Weeks
The Casper Star-Tribune reported that Rylee McCollum was on his first deployment for the evacuation and was manning a checkpoint at the airport when he died.
His older sister, Roice McCollum, told the newspaper that he was expecting a baby in three weeks.
“He wanted to be a Marine his whole life and carried around his rifle in his diapers and cowboy boots,” McCollum’s sister said. “He was determined to be in infantry… Rylee 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: “Rylee will always be a hero not just for the ultimate sacrifice he made for our country, but for the way he impacted every life around him for the better. Making us stronger, kinder, teaching us to love deeper.”
Rylee’s sister Chi wrote on Facebook, “My hero, Our hero, an American f***ing hero. I love you.”
3. The Area Schools Superintent Pledged to Find Many Ways to ‘Honor Rylee for This Ultimate & Untimely Sacrifice’
McCollum was a 2019 graduate of Jackson Hole High School.
Wyoming Schools Superintendent Jillian Balow McCollum told the Casper Star-Tribune: “Saying that I am grateful for Rylee’s service to our country does not begin to encapsulate the grief and sadness I feel today as a mother and as an American. My heart and prayers are with Rylee’s family, friends, and the entire Jackson community.”
“We will find many ways to honor Rylee for this ultimate and untimely sacrifice in the coming months and years – but for now, my arms are wrapped around Rylee’s loved ones from afar and I pray they find some comfort.”
The Sweetwater County Sheriff’s Office wrote, “On behalf of Sheriff Grossnickle and the dedicated men and women of Sweetwater County Sheriff’s Office, we extend our sincerest heartfelt condolences to the soldiers and civilians murdered by terrorists in Afghanistan yesterday. Our thoughts and prayers are with the victims’ friends and families, and we are especially devastated to learn that among the victims was one of Wyoming’s very own, Rylee McCollum, a Marine from Bondurant, Wyoming. Thank you for your service and sacrifice. May God rest your souls in peace. We will never forget.”
4. The Americans Who Died Are Heroes ‘Engaged in the Selfless Mission to Save the Lives of Others,’ the President Says
President Biden said in a news conference that the dead service members were “standing guard at the airport…These American service members who gave their lives are… heroes.. engaged in the selfless mission to save the lives of others.”
Biden said, “We will not be deterred by terrorists… we will continue the evacuation.” He said that ISIS-K leadership and facilities will be attacked. More than 100,000 people were “taken to safety in the last 11 days. In the last 12 hours or so, another 7,000 have gotten out,” he said. “These ISIS terrorists will not win. We will rescue the Americans who are there…America will not be intimidated.”
He called those who died “part of the bravest, most capable and selfless military on the face of the earth.. the backbone of America, the spine of America, the best the country has to offer. Jill and I, our hearts ache for all those Afghan families who lost loved ones, including small children, in this vicious attack. We’re outraged.”
Biden brought up his deceased son Beau, who served in Iraq, saying, Beau Biden “was diagnosed with an aggressive and lethal cancer of the brain. We have some sense like many of you do what the families of these brave heroes are feeling today. Feeling like you’re being sucked into a black hole in the middle of your chest. There’s no way out. My heart aches for you.”
He continued, “We have a continued obligation, a sacred obligation to all of you, the families of those heroes. The obligation is not temporary, it lasts for ever. They were lives given in the service of liberty, in security, in the service of others, in the service of America.”
5. Others Killed in the Kabul Attack Are Being Identified
Altogether, 13 American service members died.
Jared Schmitz was identified by his father in a St. Louis radio interview as one of the 13 U.S. Marines and service members who died in the attacks in Kabul, Afghanistan, on August 26, 2021. He was remembered as a “true American hero” who had always wanted to serve his country.
Others who died have been named as: David Lee Espinoza (Texas), Jared Schmitz (Missouri), Kareem Nikoui (California), Max Soviak (Ohio); Ryan Knauss (Tennessee); Taylor Hoover (Utah), Daegan Page (Nebraska); Humberto Sanchez (Indiana) and Hunter Lopez (California).
General Kenneth McKenzie provided some details in a news conference.
“We are still investigating the exact circumstances. The attack occurred at a gate. At the gate we have to check people before they get onto the airfield. We have to make sure they aren’t carrying a bomb,” said McKenzie.
That required physical screening, he said.
In a news conference, McKenzie said that officials believe there are a little more than 1,000 US citizens still in Afghanistan. He said that “not everybody wants to leave…yesterday we brought in over 500 American citizens.”
There are unusual challenges and competing demands, he said. “Threat to our forces from ISIS=K is very real as we have seen today,” the general said. He said over 104,000 people have been screened.
He said the threat from ISIS “is extremely real. We’ve been talking about this for several days… we believe it is their desire (ISIS) to continue those attacks. We expect those attacks to continue.” The U.S. is reaching out to the Taliban, he said.
“We are continuing to bring people onto the airfield,” he said. “we will continue to process, to float people out…We will coordinate very carefully.”
He said there are additional imminent threat “strings,” including the threat of rocket attacks.
“Our mission remains. We are still committed to flowing people out…” McKenzie repeated.
If we can find “who is associated with this, we will go after them,” he said.
“We are working to determine attribution… we are prepared to take action. 24/7, we are looking for them.”
The deaths come the day after the U.S. Embassy warned stranded Americans not to go to the Hamid Karzai International Airport because of threats from ISIS, the Wall Street Journal reported the day before the attacks tore through the city.
“U.S. citizens who are at the Abbey Gate, East Gate, or North Gate now should leave immediately,” the alert said, according to the Journal. “Officials have been warning that members of the Afghan branch of the Islamic State extremist group were trying to mount an attack on military personnel or civilians at the airport.”
According to CNN, officials said that the blasts in Kabul were “suicide” attacks. They believe they were perpetrated by the group called ISIS-K, but were still working to confirm that, CNN reported, adding that ISIS-K and the Taliban are “sworn enemies.”