Hundreds mourn hometown hero in three-day procession

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By Joyce Nugent

A homemade flag made by Army and Air Force veteran Brian Gray is left standing at the Palm Desert Sheriff Station.

The flag reads “Hunter Lopez 9/21” in honor of United States Marine Corps Cpl. Hunter Lopez of Indio, who was among the 13 American service members killed during a terrorist attack near the international airport in Kabul, Afghanistan on Aug. 26.

“I found a piece of wood and some material from JoAnn’s that has the Marine Corps symbols and Semper Fi all over it,” Gray said. “I just made a flag out of it and wrote ‘no greater honor is given than a man who gives his life for his fellow man.’”

Lopez died a hero shortly after he and a fellow Marine lifted two small girls over a fence to safety.

He served in the Marine Corps for four years and spent his first three years as part of the Fleet Antiterrorism Security Team Company A, 5th Platoon. Most recently he was a member of the 2nd Battalion, 1st Marine Division, Golf Company, 1st Platoon, 3rd squad.

Lopez, 22, was born in Palm Springs and spent his youth in the Coachella Valley and is the son of two Riverside County deputy sheriffs. His mother, Alicia Lopez, is the Riverside County Sheriff’s Association Board secretary and his father, Capt. Herman Lopez, is chief of La Quinta Police Department.

“Before Hunter became a Marine, he was a son to Alicia and Herman, a brother to Owen and Trinity, a friend to many, a student and an Explorer Scout captain with the Riverside County Sheriff’s Department,” Riverside County Sheriff’s Lt. Tim Brause said Sept. 18 at the Palm Springs Convention Center during the memorial service. “Hunter’s early commitment to serve others led him to enlist in the United States Marine Corps.”

The Lopez family said in a statement that news of their son’s death was “the news that no parent wants to receive.”

“Our family is overwhelmed by the outpouring of love and condolences we’ve received in the wake of Hunter’s sudden passing,” the couple added. “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.”

On Sept. 16, the streets in the Coachella Valley were lined by men, women and children dressed in red, white and blue proudly holding American flags to honor Lopez as his motorcade traveled from the Forest Lawn Mortuary in Cathedral City to St. Francis of Assisi church in La Quinta.

You could hear a pin drop as the procession passed the Palm Desert Sheriff’s Station. Some people placed their hands over their hearts, veterans and law enforcement saluted and others simply watched through tears of gratitude and sadness.

The second day of the three-day memorial event to honor Lopez a somber procession made its way through his childhood schools, Amelia Earhart Elementary School, John Glenn Middle School and La Quinta High School.

At Amelia Earhart Elementary, school pictures of Lopez taken during his younger years lined the sidewalks flanked by American flags that represent the school’s community.  

“Rest in Peace, Cpl. Hunter Lopez,” Principal Ann Morales said. “You will live in our hearts and memory forever.”

Teary-eyed family and friends lovingly shared stories and memories of Lopez at his memorial service on Sept. 18.

Nick Conway, Lopez’s friend since the fourth grade, wiped away tears as he told how he, Lopez and Matthew Zamora cried with laughter while playing Xbox, shared frequent sleep-overs with nerf gun fights, Star Wars movie nights, pool fights, birthday parties and stupid inside jokes.

According to Conway, Lopez always had a sense of maturity and level-headedness about him. He always had a plan and was able to execute it. After he joined the Marines the only things he cared about were his family, becoming a better person and a better operator. 

“He was the kind of friend you wanted by your side, he would do anything for you,” Conway added. “Hunter lived and died by the motto ‘service above self.’”

Sgt. David Traylor was at the airport with Lopez on Aug. 26.

After the pair pulled the children to safety, Traylor said he looked at Lopez and they fist-bumped.

“Unfortunately, I never got to see my brother again,” Traylor said.

 As the funeral procession — escorted by dozens of law enforcement vehicles from local agencies and the California Highway Patrol — approached Banning on its way to Riverside National Cemetery, the San Gorgonio Bridge was being decorated with the American Flag by Erik Barajas, a U.S. Air Force veteran, and his family.

“I lost my Lieutenant in Iraq so I know what it feels like,” Barajas said.

“It is important to me that Hunter’s family knows the people of Riverside County care about them and their son and what they are going through.”

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