Teen honors father killed in Afghanistan with special senior photos

A high school senior paid tribute to her father who died during a military tour in Afghanistan through pictures that depict him as an “angel”.

Julia Yllescas, who attends Aurora High School, wanted to honor her father’s memory by including him in her senior pictures. Her dad, Captain Robert Yllescas, died on December 1, 2008, after he sustained injuries from an improvised explosive device while on a military tour in Afghanistan. He was flown to the National Naval Medical Center in Bethesda, Maryland to be treated, but he fell to his injuries after a month.

military tour
Snapshots by Suz

Julia had her senior pictures taken last week and wanted her dad to be part of it. She sent them to Susanne Beckmann, a photographer, to see if she could edit the images to create an “angel picture” with her father.

The senior loved the first two photographs that Susanne worked on, where she is shown standing and sitting next to a faint shadow of her dad in uniform.

“Why it has hit my heart so hard is that I almost felt when I saw those pictures that he truly was there,” Julia told KOLN. “And to have a piece of him with me throughout my senior year. Because sometimes it feels like where are you, why did you have to go.”

Though Julia was only 7 years old when her father was deployed for the Afghanistan military tour, she said that she and her dad always shared a special bond. She described him as a “jokester”, and shared that they would often wrestle when she was younger.

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

Julia and Capt. Robert both shared a love for popsicles and boating, so much that they decided to build a boat made of popsicle sticks. However, the boat remained unfinished, as duty called for the military man.

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

military tour
Snapshots by Suz

Susanne, who had known the Yllescas family since Julia was 9, posted the final photos on Facebook and to her surprise, the images got a grand response from those who saw it.

“This was just supposed to be something special I was doing for one of my customers,” Susanne told CNN. “I’ve never seen a reaction like this to my photos.”

She said that other families were asking her to do a similar photo for their departed loved ones.

Susanne’s husband has served in the Nebraska National Guard for 16 years, and she said that she was more than happy to do the photos for the family.

“I was teary-eyed when I was editing them,” Susanne told KOLN. “All I could think in my head is I don’t ever want to have to do this for my own kids.”

military tour
Snapshots by Suz

Aside from her senior photos, Julia and her family will be able to reconnect with Capt. Robert through a film based on CNN anchor Jake Tapper’s book, The Outpost: An Untold Story of American Valor, which highlights the army man’s story.

Robert will be played by Mel Gibson’s son, Milo Gibson, who will portray the final moments of his life as described in Tapper’s book. Julia and her mother will attend a private screening of the film in Washington this October before the movie is shown in cinemas this year.

Growing up without a father was definitely hard for Julia, but through these photos, she finds comfort knowing and seeing that her dad is always with her.

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

Watch the video below to know more about this story.

To see more moving photography, please visit Snapshots by Suz.