Inland Empire pays tribute to hometown US Marines among those killed in Afghanistan 1 year ago

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Saturday, August 27, 2022
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One year ago on Friday, 13 U.S. Marines were killed in Afghanistan during a bombing at the Kabul airport, including three from the Inland Empire.

RIVERSIDE, Calif. (KABC) -- One year ago on Friday, 13 U.S. Marines were killed in Afghanistan during a bombing at the Kabul airport.

Three of those service members were from the Inland Empire, and this weekend, community members are paying their respects.

The parents of Cpl. Hunter Lopez, 22, paid tribute to their son, along with family members and friends, at Riverside National Cemetery where he was buried.

"Obviously, this whole week has been difficult knowing that this day has been coming," said Lopez's father, Herman Lopez. "But I think the reassurance we had from family and friends that have been with us throughout the year, just knowing that they were going to be with us and get through the day."

The two other service members who were killed from the Inland Empire were Lance Cpl. Kareem Nikoui, 20, of Norco, and Lance Cpl. Dylan Merola, 20, of Rancho Cucamonga.

A vigil was planned for 8 p.m. Friday at the Fallen 13 Memorial Flower Garden in Norco. A remembrance ceremony is planned for Saturday at 5 p.m. at the same location.

A "Say Their Names Caravan" will start in San Clemente and arrive prior to the Saturday evening event.

Organizers say there will also be a caravan out of Twentynine Palms to the remembrance ceremony.

The parents of Cpl. Lopez remember their son as a young man who enjoyed playing soccer, loved Star Wars movies and as someone who always had a solid plan for his life.

His father said his son was living out that plan when he was killed in action.

"Hunter had a mission," he said. "He signed up to do a job, and staying with his character, he was going to do that mission to the best of his ability."

His family started the Hunter Lopez Memorial Foundation in honor of the fallen hero.

His parents said over the past year, they've met with several young men and women who told them that Cpl. Lopez's sacrifice inspired them to join the armed forces.

"These are 18- and 19-year-old young men and women that don't have to do this, all our forces currently are voluntary, but they choose to sign on the dotted line for that contract, whether it's 3, 4 or 5 years or longer do defend our country."