During a memorial service Saturday, family and friends shared memories of 22-year-old U.S. Marine Corps Cpl. Hunter Lopez of Indio, one of 13 service members killed in last month’s bombing in Afghanistan, concluding the three-day remembrance being held in his community.
The service began with six U.S. Marines joining the Lopez family in walking the casket into the Oasis Room of the Palm Springs Convention Center as bagpipes played.
Riverside County sheriff’s Lt. Tim Brause delivered the opening address, recounting that Hunter was a fan of Star Wars.
“I think he chose the Marine Corps because he couldn’t find a recruitment office for Jedi knights,” Brause said.
Many uniformed personnel were among the mourners gathered in the main hall, including U.S. Marines and members of local police and fire departments.
Hunter and 12 other service members died Aug. 26 in a suicide bombing at the airport in Kabul, Afghanistan, amid the withdrawal of U.S. troops from the country.
Hunter was the son of Riverside County sheriff’s Deputy Alicia Lopez and sheriff’s Capt. Herman Lopez. According to the Riverside Sheriff’s Association, Hunter was a Riverside County sheriff’s Explorer Scout with the Palm Desert Station from September 2014 to August 2017, and planned to become a sheriff’s deputy upon his return from Afghanistan.
Fellow Marine Sgt. David Traylor, who was with Hunter the day of the blast, said before Hunter was killed the pair were pulling girls to safety from the raucous crowd that had gathered at the airport.
Traylor said he recalled fist bumping Hunter after one of the rescues and said, “Good shit, brother.”
“And then I turned around and, unfortunately, never got to see my brother again,” said Traylor.
Hunter’s uncle, Juan Carlos Lopez, said his nephew would write to his grandparents in their native Spanish and would sign the letters off as “Cazador,” which means hunter in Spanish.
“I’m sure he used Google Translate or something but he really cared about them,” he said.
Another one of Hunter’s uncles, Rene Santos, said his nephew was a “professional warrior” who was always trying to perfect his skills even from a young age.
“Hunter was my nephew. I loved him like a son,” said Santos. “Hunter made the ultimate sacrifice for his country. Let us not forget Hunter. Let us not forget Marines like Hunter.”
Just prior to the funeral, Rep. Raul Ruiz, D-Coachella, tweeted, “Our entire nation is forever indebted to United States Marine Corps Corporal Hunter Lopez for his incredible service to our nation. Today, my heart is with the Lopez family, our nation’s Gold Star Families, and all of our courageous servicemembers and veterans.”
At the service’s conclusion, a procession drove from the convention center to Riverside National Cemetery, where Lopez was buried.
The three-day remembrance began Thursday with dozens of people gathering near the Palm Desert sheriff’s station, where lights flashed on police cars and fire engines in honor of Hunter as his body was carried in a procession.
That procession began at Forest Lawn in Cathedral City, passed the Palm Desert sheriff’s station and ended at St. Francis of Assisi Catholic Community.
American flags were placed along the route.
“We’re lucky enough to be here because of a lot of young men like that,” Lloyd Chaisson told The Desert Sun while waiting along the route. He told the newspaper he came to pay his respects as a Vietnam veteran because he had a lot of friends who never made it home.
On Friday, Hunter’s body was carried in a second procession that started at St. Francis of Assisi Catholic Community in La Quinta and passed the three schools Lopez attended — Amelia Earhart Elementary School and John Glenn Middle School, both in Indio, and La Quinta High School.
Amelia Earhart Elementary School placed 900 flags outside of the campus, alongside photos of Hunter during his years attending the school.
“The smallest flags represent each child on campus, the medium flags represent each staff member who does their best to educate our future citizens and the largest flag represents our country,” according to a Facebook post Friday by the school. “All are parts of a whole: One child, one school, one Country together in honor of a Marine who gave his life for our Country. Rest in Peace, Corporal Hunter Lopez. You will live in our hearts and memory forever.”
John Glenn Middle School also displayed American flags and photos of Hunter from his time at the school. La Quinta High School paid tribute with hundreds of students lining up to pay respects as the procession passed.
The procession then looped back to St. Francis of Assisi, where a public viewing was held.
“Hunter was devoted to serving others and perfecting himself in order to be the best Explorer and Marine possible. Whether at work or at home, Hunter strived for perfection, seeking knowledge and experience from those he respected and admired,” the Riverside County Sheriff’s Department said in a statement. “When on leave, Hunter enjoyed being around family and friends and sharing his experiences with everyone. He lived life to the fullest and was often the reason why family and friends would bend over backwards to get together when he was around.”