Nebraska Teen Pays Tribute to Father Killed in Afghanistan with Senior Year Photos

Georgia Slater

The teenage daughter of an army ranger who died in Afghanistan in 2008 has found a special way to make sure her father his always by her side.

Julia Yllescas lost her father, Army Ranger Capt. Robert, at the age of 7.  The army ranger never recovered from an improvised explosive device during his deployment. Taken from his family too soon, his daughter — who is now in high school — is honoring her father by adding a special visage of him to her senior photos, so that he can be a part of her most recent life milestone.

While it’s been “extremely, extremely” difficult to grow up without her father, and “it gets harder and harder every year,” the Nebraska teen told CNN the senior photos are a way to keep his memory close.

Photographer Susanne Beckmann, who has taken photos of Yllescas since she was 9 years old, posted the photos to Facebook Sunday night and said she never expected such a grand response for her work.

“This was just supposed to be something special I was doing for one of my customers,” Beckmann told CNN. “I’ve never seen a reaction like this to my photos,” adding that other families are asking her for similar photos of their loved ones.

“I can’t even put into words how it makes me feel, knowing he’s still with me,” Yllescas said of the photos.

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Susanne Beckmann owner of Snapshots by Suz

Yllescas’ father was transported to the National Naval Medical Center in Bethesda, Maryland following his accident, however, a month later he fell to his injuries.

Though she was only 7 years old when her father was deployed, the high school senior said the two always shared a special bond explaining that her father “was a jokester” and that she would wrestle with him often when she was young.

“He was a good dad and always let me win,” she recalled.

Yllescas and her father both shared a love of boating and popsicles, so much so that they began to build a boat out of popsicle sticks. However, the boat was not finished before Robert was called to Afghanistan, and it still remains unfinished today.

“I wouldn’t feel right finishing it without him,” she told CNN.

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Susanne Beckmann owner of Snapshots by Suz

Along with her senior photos, Yllescas and her mother will be able to once again connect with Robert through an upcoming film based on CNN anchor Jake Tapper’s book, The Outpost: An Untold Story of American Valor, which features the army ranger’s story.

Robert will be played by Milo Gibson, Mel Gibson’s son, and will act out the last few moments of his life as portrayed in Tapper’s book.

Yllescas and her mother will attend the private screening of the movie in Washington this October before the film hits theaters.