Taylor Hoover was only 11 when terrorists hijacked four planes bound for California and successfully crashed three of them into the Pentagon and the twin towers of the World Trade Center on Sept. 11, 2001. Yet he knew even then that he wanted to fight back.
Staff Sgt. Hoover, a graduate of Hillcrest High, joined the Marines at age 20. He served three tours of duty over 11 years. But his fight ended Thursday when a suicide bomber detonated an explosive inside the Abbey Gate of the Hamid Karzai International Airport in Kabul, Afghanistan, killing the 31-year-old Utah native and 12 other American Soldiers.
On Sunday night, hundreds gathered for a vigil on the steps of the State Capitol to remember the man those close to him called a “born leader” and who promised to undertake their own fight to keep his memory alive.
“This takes your breath and crushes your heart,” Hoover’s uncle, Billy “BB” Barnett, told the crowd. “But I realize that with every mention of his name, we honor him. He deserves this plus so much more.”
The family — including Hoover’s mother, Kelly Barnett of Missouri; his father, Darin Hoover of Murray; and his fiancee, Nicole Weiss of California — spent the morning at Dover Air Force Base in Maryland where the remains of the 13 deceased soldiers were delivered there Sunday under the watch of president Joe Biden and first lady Jill Biden.
The family then returned to Utah via a donated private jet in order to make the vigil in time.
They arrived to find nearly every dignitary in the state in attendance. Among those present were Senators Mike Lee and Mitt Romney, Representatives John Curtis, Blake Moore, Burgess Owens and Chris Stewart, Utah Attorney General Sean Reyes and Governor Spencer Cox.
Cox said Hoover personified the Marine motto of Semper Fidelis, or “Always Faithful.”
“The best way to describe Staff Sgt. Hoover is that he was a U.S. Marine,” Cox said, “because those are the words that describe the men and women who, for 20 years, have stood on that wall and kept that hell from our doorstep. He went there so it didn’t come here. Semper Fi, always faithful. He was always faithful. He lived his life faithful and he died faithful.”
In addition to the dignitaries, close to a thousand people, many of whom did not know Hoover personally, gathered around the south entrance to the Utah Capitol to pay their respects to Staff Sgt. Hoover. They spilled over to the steps behind the dias and down to the lawn below. Hundreds waved American flags large and small, with the occasional historic Betsy Ross American flag and red U.S. Marine Corp flag seen amid the sea of stars and stripes.
Henry Axon, age 12 from Cottonwood Heights, said he came with his family to pay tribute to Hoover’s sacrifices and to show support for the soldier’s family.
“I feel it’s important because that family has gone through so much, probably like the worst times of their whole entire life,” he said. “It’s like showing respect, like If it just makes them a little bit happier how many people showed up to show respect to Taylor.”
As they waited for the family to arrive, the crowd sang patriotic songs such as “America the Beautiful.” One group read off the names of the 13 victims in Thursday’s attack. An estimated 160 Afghans also died in the explosion, making it one of the deadliest in the 20 years since the U.S. entered the conflict.
In total, nearly 2,500 American troops died in the war, including 28 from Utah.
Barnett said Hoover knew the risks of serving in Afghanistan and accepted them anyway.
“This dude did not need to be recruited. He wanted to serve and protect since he was a little boy,” Barnett said. “He was a Marine and a warrior from birth and no doubt long before that. And even now in his current location, he signed up the first chance he got. He was disciplined, determined and knew his calling.”
According to information on a GoFundMe page set up to help support Hoover’s family, he was rallying younger soldiers and running from station to station distributing ammunition during a fight against combatants when the bomb went off. The terrorist group ISIS-K has said it planned the attack.
Kayleigh Snedgek, a friend of Hoover’s since eighth grade, said the worst thing that could happen would be for his life’s work to fade after Tuesday, the deadline for official U.S. withdrawal from Afghanistan.
“Taylor was my hero. He was a million people’s hero,” she said. “Just please don’t forget him.”