Family, friends, and community members braved triple-digit temperatures to gather in the desert city of La Quinta, California, at the Civic Center Campus, for an evening vigil to pay respects to hometown hero, Cpl. Hunter Lopez. Hunter was one of thirteen service members killed by a suicide bomber a year ago in Kabul, during the evacuation of Afghanistan.
The hour-long ceremony celebrated Hunter’s life and his heroism by remembering the favorite movie and songs of the young Corporal. Star Wars was the movie, and the ceremony went past dusk to include a lightsaber tribute. Nearly everyone in the crowd of about 200 held a lightsaber high (organizers had spare lightsabers on hand). The ceremony was also attended by two Jedi Knights, three Storm Troopers, Darth Vader, and a few other characters from the movie franchise. The Star Wars theme was reminiscent of when the family surprised Hunter as a boy with a staged Star Wars lightsaber fight in the backyard.
Chief Deputy Misty Reynolds, of the Riverside County Sheriff’s Department, was the first speaker and told of how Cpl. Lopez was involved in the department’s Explorer program during his time in the La Quinta High School’s Public Service Academy (PSA) and had the intention of returning to serve with the Riverside County Sheriff’s department after his time with the military.
Chief Deputy Reynolds paid tribute to each of the 13 fallen service members from that tragic day, one year prior to the day of the ceremony, reading the name, rank, hometown, and age of each one. Reynold’s message was to honor those who would give the ultimate sacrifice to protect the liberties of others.
Reynolds also spoke about how the ceremony transcended the divisiveness that is so prevalent these days, and brought together community members from all backgrounds and political beliefs. to honor the lives paid to the cost of freedom which she reminded “is not, and never will be free.”
The PSA is a California Technical Education program that follows a school-within-a-school model for participating students. The students all share core-subject and technical teachers, in classes comprised entirely of academy students. The PSA focuses on students that wish to be part of the public service sector– police, fire, border patrol, military, etc– after graduating high school, and is well established and popular at the school.
In an interview given to a local new station, Hunter’s mom shared information on the foundation that was started in Hunter’s name, and insight into the young Corporals character. The Hunter Lopez Memorial Foundation, which can be found here, was founded to assist families to attend Marine Corps boot camp graduation ceremonies who might not otherwise have the means to do so. It was something that Hunter himself noticed, and commented on at his own boot camp graduation.
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“That was my kid,” Alicia Lopez told the reporter. “He did a lot of things for people that we had no clue he had done till after he passed away. So, just be kind to one another. Treat everybody with respect and do nice things for other people, even when nobody’s watching.”
In addition to the foundation, a scholarship fund was established in Cpl. Lopez’s name for students at La Quinta High that pursue careers in public service.
Here are a few pictures of the event:
— Socks (@Socks19764904) August 29, 2022