Hundreds of people turned out on Sunday for a memorial hike in Southern California to honor Lance Cpl. Kareem Nikoui, one of 13 soldiers who died in a suicide bombing last week at the Afghan Hamid Karzai International Airport in Kabul, while the refugees were still being evacuated.
Nikoui, a U.S. Marine who graduated from Norco High School in 2019, had planned to hike with another former JROTC cadet to Pumpkin Rock Trail after returning overseas. Ashley Lopez, who was her high school exercise instructor, described how the couple planned their reunion on social media, as Nikoui recently sent her a photo on Snap Chat of him smiling alongside an Afghan child.
Lopez, who helped organize the memorial hike on Sunday, told Pasadena Star-News that she wished she had taken a screenshot of the photo because it was the last time she saw Nikoui alive before the August 26 attack.
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“We were texting each other, chatting about the good old days with one of my former cadets,” Lopez said on Sunday. “The last photo I saw of him was there on Snapchat – and I obviously had no idea that was going to happen – but I would like a screenshot of that photo.”
Norco Mayor Kevin Bash described to hundreds of mourners gathered at Pumpkin Rock, a jack-o-lantern-painted tourist attraction overlooking the Inland Empire, how Nikoui had rushed inside the Kabul airport to bring more children to safety when the bomb exploded outside Porte de l’Abbaye.
“You’re not going to stop him from trying to go back and save other people. But he went out and do what he loved to do – and it saves people,” said Master Sgt. David Spratley, who was Nikoui’s mentor, told Star-News during the memorial hike. “Heaven is becoming a good warrior.”
The Town of Norco Facebook page shared a video showing hundreds of people waving American flags at Pumpkin Rock who had climbed the summit on foot, by car, by bicycle and even on horseback. The crowd solemnly listened to a rendition of “Taps” played by the trumpet.
A photo also showed Nikoui’s half-sisters, Ashley and Karena Sylvester, holding a banner on the rock with the photo of the fallen soldier that read, “Gone Too Soon. To Norco Hero Kareem Nikoui. Semper Fi.”
“There was a line of traffic this morning, and I cried,” Lopez said. “I was like: Wow! The town of Norco has really come to show their love for Kareem.”
The hike followed a $ 5 pancake breakfast at America Legion Post 328 in Norco to raise money for Nikoui’s family, KNBC reported. 13 glasses of beer sat on a table with 13 empty chairs in the corner of the room.
“Kareem has always been involved in something, whether it be helping with the Pearl Harbor event or the POW event at the monument,” said Spratley, describing the high school days of the now fallen soldier. fight. “He was a kid who was always full of laughs and fun and just had a lot of heart.”
Nikoui’s name will be inscribed on the “Lest We Forget Wall” at the Veterans George A. Ingalls Memorial Square, which honors Norconians who made the ultimate sacrifice, the city said. A Gold Star Families Memorial is currently under construction at the same location.
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Nikoui previously attended Holly Avenue Elementary School in Arcadia and First Avenue Middle School before graduating from high school in Norco. The Norco High School Junior ROTC, the Corona-Norco Unified School District and the Town of Norco hosted the commemorative hike on Sunday.