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JACKSON, Wyoming — Lance Cpl. Rylee McCollum, 20, from Jackson, Wyoming, was one of the 13 U.S. troops killed in the Kabul airport attack Thursday.
A suicide bomber and gunmen attacked crowds of Afghans flocking to Kabul's airport, transforming a scene of desperation into one of horror in the waning days of rescue operations for those fleeing the Taliban takeover.
According to Rylee's sister Cheyenne McCollum, he was in Afghanistan helping the evacuation efforts and was manning a checkpoint when the suicide bomber hit.
"When we saw the news, we all (me, my dad and younger sister) just had a feeling that something wasn't right. I had gone home early from work. I wasn't holding it together. I had a feeling. My dad had a weird feeling too. Then they knocked on our door at 3:30 in the morning," Cheyenne said.
Cheyenne McCollum told EastIdahonews.com that Rylee was her little brother. He was the youngest of four and the only boy in the family. Their single father raised them.
Rylee was a 2019 graduate of Summit Innovations School in Jackson and always knew what he wanted to do in life.
"He was a kid that touched everybody's heart. He was a wrestler since he was 4. He knew he was going to be a Marine since he was about that same age. He used to walk around in just a diaper and in his sister's pink princess boots carrying his toy rifle and play like he was in the Army or a Marine," Cheyenne said.
Rylee joined the Marine Corps on his 18th birthday. He was sent to Jordan for his first deployment and assigned to Afghanistan just two weeks ago.
We are all just kind of lost. Don't know what to do or what to think from here. The next step is to go get him and bring him home.
"He signed papers on his 18th birthday and called my dad and was like, 'Oh, Dad, I need you to come sign this for me. I'm enlisting,' and he's like, 'Oh wait, it's my birthday, I don't need your signature anymore!' And we couldn't have been more proud of him because he was doing what he needed to do and what he wanted to do," she said.
Rylee got married right before his deployment in April. His wife is on base in San Diego and is pregnant with their first child, due in mid-September.
"He was going to be the best dad. We don't know (the gender of the baby). They decided to keep it a surprise. We hope it's a boy. I had a baby in 2019, and he just loved her so much," Cheyenne said.
Rylee had plans to be a teacher and wrestling coach after serving his country.
"We are all just kind of lost. Don't know what to do or what to think from here. The next step is to go get him and bring him home," she said.
Wyoming Gov. Mark Gordon released a statement Friday following news of Rylee's death.
"I'm devastated to learn Wyoming lost one of our own in yesterday's terrorist attack in Kabul, Afghanistan," Gordon said. "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."
Wyoming State Superintendent of Public Instruction Jillian Balow released the following statement:
"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."