By Jimmy Orr, Cowboy State Daily
Outpourings of support continued over the weekend for the family of a Wyoming marine who was killed in a terrorist attack in Afghanistan on Friday.
Lance Cpl. Rylee McCollum, a former resident of Bondurant, Wyoming, and a 2019 graduate of Jackson Hole High School, was one of 13 servicemen killed in two separate blasts at the Kabul airport.
McCollum was married and his wife is expecting a child in three weeks.
Donations over $500,000 have been generated on two GoFundMe sites.
One page set up by McCollum’s mother-in-law, Jill Crayton, has raised more than $160,000 while the other, set-up by an unknown organizer, has topped $350,000.
“My heart is incredibly heavy today, in the wee hours of the morning my beautiful daughter got that knock on her door that no military spouse wants to get,” Crayton, the mother of McCollum’s wife Gigi, said.
Crayton said the couple had been married less than a year and said Gigi is 36 weeks pregnant.
“I never got to meet him, but I will meet his baby, and I will love and spoil that baby forever. please hold her in your heart and soul because she needs it, this mama knows exactly what that feels like,” she wrote on the page.
Holding back tears, Crayton told a Charlotte TV station that she learned the news from her daughter at 6 a.m. EDT Friday after Marines showed up at her daughter’s door.
“He brought out the best of her. He did,” she said.
Crayton lost her husband when Gigi was five years old and said she remembered hoping that her children would never have to go through something like that.
“It’s not just losing your spouse,” she said. “But something you were so excited to share with somebody and that person isn’t there anymore.”
The other page said the purpose of the fundraiser is toward the education and upbringing of McCollum’s child,
“His sacrifice at HKIA [Hamid Karzai International Airport] to protect the lives of those who cannot themselves will not be forgotten,” the page said. “Once we close off donations, withdrawals will be directed directly to an account chosen by her and her mother.”
McCollum’s sister, Roice, said her brother had wanted to be a Marine his entire life and as a toddler, he carried around a toy rifle while wearing diapers and his cowboy boots.
“Rylee wanted to be a history teacher and a wrestling coach when he finished serving his country,” she said. “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. We love you Rylee.”
His father, Jim, told the New York Times that he could track his son through a messaging app that displayed a green dot when he was online.
When Jim got word of the terrorist attacks, he checked the app but there was no green light.
“In my heart yesterday afternoon, I knew,” he said.
“He was a beautiful soul,” Mr. McCollum said.
Wyoming’s congressional delegation was quick to offer condolences to McCollum’s family.
“His bravery and patriotism will never be forgotten,” Rep. Liz Cheney said, a member of the House Armed Services Committee and perhaps the most-outspoken critic of U.S. withdrawal from Afghanistan. “His willingness to put himself in harm’s way to keep our country safe and defend our freedom represents a level of selflessness and heroism that embodies the best of America.”
“There are no words sufficient to comfort a family after hearing news like this, but I want to express my deepest condolences to Rylee McCollum’s family and friends,” U.S. Sen. Cynthia Lummis said.