Everyone looked up to Staff Sgt. Taylor Hoover.
He was the oldest of three siblings in his family, so his two younger siblings always admired him, his father, Darin Hoover, said. He was the first grandchild born on either side of his family, so all the cousins, nieces and nephews looked up to him, too.
"Everybody would go to him because that's just the personality that he had," Darin Hoover said. "He was a born leader."
Darin Taylor Hoover Jr., 31, was leading his fellow Marines on Thursday when a suicide bombing at the Kabul, Afghanistan, airport killed him and 12 other U.S. service members. Hoover's family confirmed to KSL-TV on Friday that he was killed in the attack, which also left more than 160 Afghans dead.
"He was helping those that are less fortunate, those that can't help themselves, serving his country — the one thing that he's always wanted to do," Darin Hoover said.
His son was 11 years old when the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks took place, Darin Hoover said. From that moment on, Taylor knew he wanted to serve.
He didn't know how he wanted to serve until he was in high school, when Marine Corps recruiters came to the school. Taylor knew that was the way to go, Darin Hoover said.
"He loved his country," Darin Hoover said. "It meant more to him than anything else, besides his family."
Taylor had been in the Marines for 11 years when he died, Darin Hoover said. He was on his third deployment to Afghanistan.
Taylor and his father hunted, camped, fished and boated together, Darin Hoover said.
"He loved life," Darin said.
Taylor was a "rambunctious" kid who started playing football when he was 8 years old, his father added.
"Absolutely loved it — mean son of a gun on the field," Darin said.
But once Taylor got off the field, he was a "teddy bear" who lit up the room whenever he walked in, his father said.
Taylor's fellow Marines had tremendous respect for him, Darin Hoover said. Even the higher-ups knew he was a great leader, he added.
"I pray that this wasn't in vain, and deep in my heart of hearts I know that it wasn't," Darin Hoover said. "Because that's just the type of man he was, doing what he needed to do and getting the job done for those that couldn't do it for themselves, and he was standing out front leading his men."
Tributes pour in
Utah Gov. Spencer Cox ordered flags at all state facilities and public grounds to be flown at half-staff through sunset on Monday to honor Hoover and others killed in the Kabul attacks.
"We are devastated to hear of the passing of Staff Sgt. Taylor Hoover," Cox said on Twitter. "Staff Sgt. Hoover served valiantly as a Marine and died serving his fellow countrymen as well as America's allies in Afghanistan. We honor his tremendous bravery and commitment to his country, even as we condemn the senseless violence that resulted in his death. Abby and I pray for Staff Sgt. Hoover, his family and loved ones during this most difficult time."
Tributes filled social media from friends, family members and even those who had never met Hoover, many calling him a hero.
"Soooooo glad I got to see him before he left. I love you son!!! You're my hero!! Please check in on us once in a while. I'll try to make you proud!!" Darin Hoover posted on Facebook.
"My handsome nephew, Staff Sergeant Taylor Hoover. Taylor spent his entire adult life as a Marine, serving. Doing the hard things that most of us can't do. He is a hero," Jeremy Soto, an uncle, posted. "We are wounded. We are bruised. We are angry. We are crushed. ... but we remain faithful."
"Always a smile. Always respectful. A joy to be around. He is adored beyond measure. The world has lost a true light. Our hearts are broken. Shock, disbelief, horror, sadness, sorrow, anger and grief," Brittany Jones Barnett, an aunt, posted. "Thank you sweet boy for the ultimate sacrifice. For giving your life for us all. Fighting for freedom and giving absolutely everything you had. You will never ever be forgotten. We love you so much."
American flags have been placed outside the Hoover family home, as well as several in the neighborhood. Staff Sgt. Hoover’s father agreed to do an interview with me. He said he wants people to know who his son is and how much he loved serving our country 🇺🇸 pic.twitter.com/K3Wdn3wFTd— Alex Cabrero (@KSL_AlexCabrero) August 27, 2021
"He was there saving lives and lost his own. Please remember his father, mother and sisters in your prayers," Juan Soto, a cousin, posted.
Many on social media offered messages of condolence to Hoover's family and thanked Hoover for his service.
"My heart is broken for you and your family. I have known Taylor for a few years now. We were gaming buddies. He was an all around stand up guy. I can't believe he's gone. Taylor Hoover is a Hero! May he rest is peace," Justin Yermum posted.
"I personally want to give thanks for his ultimate sacrifice. For his many hours he had spent serving our country so me and my family can live free and in peace! I pray you and your family can find peace with this absolute tragedy!" Tammy Burton, who said she never met Hoover, posted on Facebook.
According to his Facebook page, Hoover graduated from Hillcrest High School.
Members of Utah's congressional delegation added messages of support for Hoover's family on social media Friday.
Republican Rep. Blake Moore tweeted his condolences: "We just received word that Staff Sgt. Taylor Hoover of UT lost his life to the attack at the Kabul airport yesterday. We'll be forever grateful for his sacrifice & legacy. He spent his last moments serving our state & nation, & we'll never forget his unwavering devotion."
Rep. Chris Stewart, R-Utah, also tweeted a tribute message for Hoover Friday.
"Yesterday, the state of Utah lost one of its finest in a tragic act of terror. A Marine from Utah made the ultimate sacrifice during the bombing in Kabul," Stewart said. "The loved ones of this hero have my full support and immeasurable gratitude. This soldier's heroism will never be forgotten."
Rep. Burgess Owens, R-Utah, also said he was thinking of Hoover's family in the wake of his death.
"I'm sending my prayers across Utah as our state mourns the loss of Staff Sgt. Taylor Hoover, a hero who leaves behind a lifelong legacy of service and courage," Owens said in a tweet. "I'm thinking of his family during this time."
Rep. John Curtis, R-Utah, commended Hoover for his actions evacuating people from Afghanistan, even though he likely knew that an attack at the airport was possible.
"He (undoubtedly) saved many American and Afghan lives through his selfless commitment to public service and the United States," Curtis tweeted. "My prayers are with his family and loved ones."
Sen. Mike Lee, R-Utah, said he and his wife Sharon were keeping the Hoover family in their thoughts.
"Burying a child is a grief no parent should bear. Sharon and I mourn with the Hoover family and with all who loved Staff Sergeant Taylor Hoover, a Marine from Utah who gave the last full measure of devotion in Afghanistan," Lee said in a statement issued Friday. "He died completing a mission to save his countrymen and civilians from evil and oppression. He lived the Marine Corps motto by living and dying always faithful. And now, he, like the good Marines who have gone before him, can truly see that "on heaven's scenes, you will find the streets are guarded by United States Marines."
Sen. Mitt Romney, R-Utah, said Americans are indebted to Hoover and his family.
"One of Utah's own laid down his life to protect Americans and Afghans alike," Romney tweeted. "Ann and I send our deepest condolences to Staff Sgt. Taylor Hoover's loved ones. We are in debt to him and his family for their sacrifice."
Contributing: Alex Cabrero