Marines Lance Cpl. Kareem Nikoui, Cpl. Hunter Lopez honored with memorials in Riverside County

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Sunday, September 19, 2021
Mourners in Inland Empire honor 2 Marines killed in Afghanistan
Hundreds of mourners in the Inland Empire said prayers and their final goodbyes Saturday to two Marines killed in last month's bombing in Afghanistan.

Hundreds of mourners in the Inland Empire said prayers and their final goodbyes Saturday to two Marines killed in last month's bombing in Afghanistan.

Family and friends of Lance Cpl. Kareem Nikoui packed Harvest Christian Fellowship church in Riverside to celebrate the life of the 20-year-old Marine from Norco.

He was one of 13 U.S. troops killed in a horrific suicide bombing at Afghanistan's Kabul airport, which also claimed the lives of more than 160 Afghans, on Aug. 26.

Nikoui sent videos to his family hours before he died, showing himself interacting with children in Afghanistan.

Family members say NIkoui had always wanted to be a Marine and help those in need, which is exactly what he was doing just before the deadly attack, helping three Afghan families caught in the chaos.

"Kareen was helping those kids during the worst days of their life and his last moments was him giving himself to other people," his sister Shyler Chappell said.

Lance Cpl. Kareem Nikoui, Marine killed in Kabul bombing, honored with procession Friday

Thousands of people lined the streets of Norco Friday to pay tribute to Karem Nakoui, a Marine killed in the Kabul bombing.

At a memorial service in Palm Springs for Cpl. Hunter Lopez, 22, mourners noted his final heroic act - rescuing children from a rioting mob before the blast took his life.

"He died a hero saving the lives of those he did not know," Riverside County Sheriff's Lt. Tim Brause said.

Lopez was part of a special crisis response team sent to provide security and help U.S. State Department officials to evacuate thousands of Americans and Afghan refugees fleeing the Taliban as the 20-year war drew to a close.

He had planned on following in his parent's footsteps in becoming a Riverside County sheriff's deputy when his tour was up.

Lopez was helping to rescue two young girls being crushed against the fence at the Kabul airport when he was killed.

"They were saving lives. They were saving lives of people they didn't even know, strangers that'll never get to thank them for what they did," said his uncle Rene Santos.

Marines from Norco, Rancho Cucamonga and the Coachella Valley were among the fatalities in a suicide bombing at the Kabul airport.

"Our family is overwhelmed by the outpouring of love and condolences we've received in the wake of Hunter's sudden passing," the parents said in a statement. "Please know that Hunter wore the United States Marine uniform with love and pride, and it is very apparent that the community will never forget his sacrifice and our family."

In all, three Marines from the Inland Empire and a fourth from Orange County were killed in that attack.

Meanwhile, in Northern California, the aunt of Sgt. Nicole Gee remarked on the iconic photo of her niece cradling an Afghan baby in her arms. Cheryl Juels told mourners gathered in a Roseville church that the image was taken near the end of a long, sleep-deprived shift, when someone handed Gee a baby to comfort.

To calm the baby down amid the chaos at the airport, Gee blew softly on the little girl's face and smiled at her.

"She loved that she was making a difference, and she honestly would've given her life for that one single baby," Juels said.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.