A mother’s unfathomable year of pain: A terrorist killed a son in Afghanistan, then the other was lost in the grief of his death. CNN

Norco, California

Shana Chappelle is sitting on the grass in front of the mausoleum, not knowing where to look.

This is the grave of his son, Marine Lance Cpl Karim NikouiHe was killed in a terrorist attack in Kabul, Afghanistan, nearly a year ago, as US forces left the country.

And next to it, a yellow flag marks the location for another grave, for another son.

“First time I’ve seen that,” Chappelle remarked of the flag, his voice sounding stoic, still from the shock of having lost two sons in the span of a year.

20-year-old Karim was one of 13 members of the US service who were assassinated in the US a suicide attack Outside Hamid Karzai International Airport on August 26, 2021, as the US leaves Afghanistan a chaotic and damaging retreat,

As the first anniversary of her death approached, Chappelle’s eldest son, 28-year-old Dakota Halverson, became increasingly emotional.

“He started expressing that Karim is really gone, that he just wants to be with her. And how much he misses and loves her,” Chappelle told CNN. Pointed to the meadow in front of the stone. “He used to come here sometimes and slept here at night to be with Karim. He would say that it bothers him that Karim is alone here.”

Chappelle said that Dakota was deeply in grief, as were the rest of his close family members, but he would still smile and join them. Little did she know that she would soon lose him too.

Earlier this month, Dakota took her own life Near the park where he played with his brother as a child and across the street from the Permanent Veterans Memorial to the Fallen Marine.

Shana Chappelle with her lost sons: Dakota Halvorson, left, and Karim Nikoi.

Chappell attributed the death of his sons to the disastrous US withdrawal from Afghanistan; One was killed in Kabul and the other was lost in mourning.

“It’s a pain that’s so hard to deal with because you can’t even understand it because it’s like pain you’ve never felt before,” says Chappell. “You can’t even make sense of it. You can’t even describe it, how bad it is. With Dakota, this month’s reality begins to unfold to her.”

Chappelle’s upbringing philosophy was to keep his five children – Dakota, Karim, his youngest brother and two sisters – close to him. Unlike most of the parents around him, he never allowed them to spend the night with friends.

“My biggest fear was something happening to one of my kids,” she says of how protective she is as a parent. “Having my kids with me at all times and watching them was the way I could make sure nothing was going to happen to them.”

Chappelle convinced a daughter to become a 911 dispatcher and not join the police department for fear of her safety on the streets. But she could not stop Karim from the marines.

A young Karim begins to call his toy soldiers

Chappelle remembers his reaction when he was about four years old and saw a Marine in his dress blues at a mall. The little boy was meeting the serviceman, as if the Marine were a real-life superhero.

“At a very young age he knew this is what he wanted to be. He used to see them as strong and fearless. Every little boy wants to be strong and fearless,” Chappell said.

The youngster began calling his toy soldiers “Marines” and joined the ROTC upon reaching high school. He joined the Marine Corps as soon as he turned 18.

Chappelle expected this and was proud of his boy following his dream, but it didn’t make the separation any easier.

“I cried almost every day that he was gone,” she recalled of her time at boot camp. “I can’t handle being away from him.”

Karim tries to prepare his mother for what might happen after he is deployed, but she focuses on getting him home again. “As a mom, you think, no, it’s not going to happen to me. It’s not going to happen to my baby.”

Karim, who finished second from the right, sent pictures with the children and his sea brethren to his mother instead of telling her about the chaos in Kabul.

And he didn’t like to dwell on the risky parts of being a Marine when he talked to her, she said. He did not tell her about the chaos outside the airport in Kabul as thousands of Afghans tried to flee their country, which is now under Taliban control.

Instead, he sent selfie videos with local kids and photos with his fellow Marines.

Chappelle also stopped watching the news, unable to bear the stress of his son at the end of America’s longest war.

But he didn’t have to watch the news to wake up on August 26, 2021.

“I woke up crying. I couldn’t understand why I was crying. I was very emotional about Karim. I used to insist a lot on ‘What’s up with me?’ ,

Chappelle turned to Instagram to try to take her mind off the fear she had woken up with. But the first post that emerged was a picture with news of a suicide bomber from an Afghanistan airport. About 200 Afghans and 13 American service members will be killed in the attack.

A still from a video Karim sends his mother to befriend an Afghan boy.

The background in the photo was immediately familiar to Chapelle. He had seen it earlier in the pictures sent by Karim.

Karim’s father will be the first in the family to know and share this terrible truth.

“He said, ‘Shana.’ And as soon as he said, ‘Shana,’ I just started yelling because I knew what he was going to tell me,” Chappelle said. “He never even had to say it. I just knew.”

Dakota Halverson was eight years older than her brother, but somehow Karim reversed seniority by joining the Marines. He became a father figure to Dakota, his mother said, talking about his struggles in life as young men.

Along with Chappelle’s youngest son, the two brothers would often hang out in Pikes Peak Park on a swing and talk, even as they grew into teens and became a Marine.

He used to make goofy videos, his mother said, always laughing even when life in his hometown was not easy.

Norco, California, brands itself “Horsetown, USA” with dirt paths for horses instead of sidewalks for pedestrians. The rural community is just an hour’s drive east of Los Angeles, but instead of the international glitz and glamour, it’s cramped and local.

The coffin when the flag of Lance Cpl was hoisted. Karim Nikoi returns home from Afghanistan, Narko mourns his fallen son with horses, cars and a big city funeral.

Karim's picture still looks low on Narco.

The city added Karim’s name to its Veterans Memorial. A local philanthropist offered space for a memorial in honor of the 13 service members killed in their return to Afghanistan, with all 13 individually named on concrete plaques.

Karim’s photo was added to a banner on a main street in the city, his official USMC staring grim as he poses in his Marine dress blues, just like the one he met with Marines at a mall when he was only four years old.

His final resting place is a plot in front of a steep hill which he liked to climb with his brothers.

But all the rituals eventually faded and life went on.

That didn’t happen for Dakota, her mother says.

“They have that brotherly bond,” says Chappell. “As a year (anniversary) was drawing to a close, I didn’t realize that Dakota hadn’t really acknowledged that Karim was gone. I took it as it was because we all are as hurt as we all are. Me Didn’t know he was going to do that.”

The Riverside County Sheriff’s Department report said that Dakota was found in Pikes Peak Park, where she had spent so many hours with Karim.

His mother calls it “the ripple effect”, first Karim is gone and now Dakota too, stemming from the grief of losing her brother. she connects it back to Afghanistan and Biden administration’s chaotic exit from the country, And she says that Karim and the other service members have not received their due respect.

“The comeback was a complete failure,” Chappell said. “They wanted the disastrous return to be forgotten and they wanted the 13 killed, mainly because they were so young.”

Chappell blames himself entirely on President Joe Biden as commander in chief during his withdrawal from the US. They think the Biden families were too estranged, largely because of the political fallout from the loss of American lives. “It could have been handled in a completely different way and those 13 kids would still be here. They were treated like they were disposable and replaceable and that’s what I really get. ,

To his protective mother, of course, his children are anything but disposable. She can no longer keep her sons safe and she bears the permanence of death and loss on her body.

On his right arm, a tattoo inscribes Karim’s KIA date 8-26-2021 on the underside of his rifle. Another rifle and stars form the number “13” on his upper arm. The image of a flag covers his shoulder.

Shana Chappelle shows the tattoos with which she honors her son and others killed in Kabul.

Chappelle wins as she lifts her shirt to show off her latest tattoo on her right oblique, still recovering. It reads “Dakota” with the years of his life, with an orchid rising above his name.

“My coco loved orchids,” she explained, using her eldest son’s surname.

At Karim’s graveyard, the chapel overlooks the yellow flag where Dakota will be buried. He had not expected to bury a son, less than two. She’s raising the money she can With a GoFundMe account so he can bury Dakota next to his beloved brother,

“Karim is not alone as he went to join her,” Chappell said.

She is haunted by guilt, saying that she should have noticed several times. “I was with him all the time. He acted so happy that I never would have imagined,” she said.

Dakota's body will be buried next to her brother.

Now, the mother of five has three children, she says she is determined to live and protect them.

She had told herself that she would resume some of her old activities once next Friday, the one-year anniversary of Karim’s death. But that was before Dakota’s death and now she doesn’t know.

“I’m still in a state of shock,” she said. “I keep saying, what am I going to do when the shock phase is over? How am I going to react to this? What will happen to me?”