Mourners in California honour 2 Marines killed in Afghanistan

Filed on September 19, 2021
Shana Chappell, mother of slain Marine Kareem Nikoui, hugs a US marine next to the flag-draped casket of her son during a funeral ceremony. — AFP

Family and friends of Lance Cpl. Kareem Nikoui and Cpl. Hunter Lopez remember their heroic acts

Mourners in Southern California said prayers and their final goodbyes on Saturday to two Marines killed in last month’s bombing in Afghanistan.

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

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

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

Phil Wozniak, pastor of Grace Fellowship Church Norco, said Nikoui pulled three families to safety and went back to the airport to rescue a child when the bomb went off.

“It didn’t surprise me that those were his last moments,” his sister Shyler Chappell said.

She said her brother had wanted to become a Marine “for as long as I can remember” and went on to join the Junior ROTC at his high school.

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 US State Department officials process thousands of people a day at the airport gates, the Riverside Press Enterprise reported.

He had planned to follow in the footsteps of his parents and embark on a career in law enforcement after his military deployment. As a teen he had been in the Explorer program at the Riverside County Sheriff’s Department, where his mother is a deputy and his father is a captain.

“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.”

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