SAN DIEGO – The family of a Camp Pendleton Marine and expecting father are in mourning after he was killed last week in a suicide bombing during evacuations in Kabul, Afghanistan.
Marine Corps Lance Cpl. Rylee J. McCollum was among 13 U.S. service members who died in the Aug. 26 attack outside of the Hamid Karzai International Airport. Ten of the fallen, including McCollum and his best friend, Lance Cpl. David L. Espinoza, had ties to Camp Pendleton located in the northern portion of San Diego County, according to the U.S. Department of Defense.
McCollum’s father, Jim McCollum, told FOX 5 that his son was “pulling people to safety when the explosion went off.”
“He’s a hero,” Jim McCollum said. “Without question. Without fear. That’s just him.”
At just 20 years old, McCollum leaves behind a pregnant wife with a baby that’s expected to be born in just a few weeks. His sister, Roice McCollum, said her thoughts were on the child who has to grow up without their father.
“We had a friend message us the other day that they were having the same conversation and they’re not never going to meet,” Roice McCollum said. “They’re meeting right now and they’re together now and Rylee’s getting ready for that baby to come welcome us to the world.”
The attack comes amid the U.S. military evacuation of Afghanistan following the Biden’s administration’s decision to end America’s longest war. Those lost in the suicide bombing were remembered this past week by leaders in the federal government, including President Joe Biden and Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin.
“These American service members who gave their lives — it’s an overused word, but it’s totally appropriate — they were heroes,” Biden said last week in remarks made at the White House. “Heroes who have been engaged in a dangerous, selfless mission to save the lives of others.”
“We mourn their loss,” Austin said. “We will treat their wounds. And we will support their families in what will most assuredly be devastating grief. But 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.”
Rylee was serving in the 2nd Battalion, 1st Marine Regiment during his first deployment.
“We do know now Rylee was on that wall pulling people to safety,” Jim McCollum said. “We heard stories. There’s firsthand knowledge that there’s 15 people he helped get through. There’s information that he helped get a 20 year Afghani interpreter get through that landed in Washington the Sunday before and they’re telling us that that Rylee did that himself.”
The young man died alongside his best friend, Espinoza, whom the McCollum family also mourns.
“They went to boot camp,” Roice said. “They went to Jordan together. Afghanistan and they both died together serving so that one’s special to us.”
But they find some peace in knowing Rylee and other service members died so that others may live.
“I am so proud of you. I wish I would’ve said that more,” Jim said. “I love him and I’m proud of him.”