Family, friends and members of the public gathered at a church in Riverside Saturday morning to say farewell to a local hero who was killed in a bombing during the evacuation at Afghanistan’s Hamid Karzai International Airport in Kabul last month.
They came to give Marine Lance Cpl. Kareem Nikoui, of Norco, a final salute during a memorial service at the Harvest Christian Fellowship Saturday morning.
The 20-year-old was one of four California Marines killed in the attack during the airport evacuation operation in Kabul on Aug. 26, just days before the planned withdrawal of U.S. troops. A total of 13 U.S. service members were killed in the bombing.
Speaking to a crowd in the nearly full auditorium, Shyler Chappell, Nikoui‘s sister, shared how “Kareem had been talking about becoming a Marine for as long as I can remember.”
“He was so excited for his job, he was so proud to deploy,” she said.
Chappell said she learned about how her brother went back inside the Kabul airport to save three families and pull children to safety.
“It didn’t surprise me that those were his last moments, as he had sent our family group chat videos of him talking to the children there,” she said.
Steve Nikoui, the Marine’s father, also spoke during the service, choking up as he shared stories about his son.
“For me, my relationship with him was really good,” Nikoui’s father said. “I let him get away with so much, to the extent that others would be jealous and be upset.”
Nikoui was brought home Friday. Thousands of people lined the streets from the Ontario Airport to a Riverside funeral home during a procession was through the Inland Empire held in Nikoui’s honor.
Members of the Harvest church said they were honored to host the fallen Marine’s funeral service.
“Lance Corporal Nikoui was a Christian, and he actually became a Christian at one of our local outreach events that we put on, called ‘SoCal Harvest,’ that we host every year at Angel’s Stadium,” said Josh Morris, director of marketing and communications for Harvest Christian Fellowship.
Meanwhile, the life of another fallen Marine, Cpl. Hunter Lopez, was also celebrated Saturday in Palm Springs.
A live-streamed memorial service for the 22-year-old local hero was held starting at 11 a.m. from the Palm Springs Convention Center. Lopez was privately buried at Riverside National Cemetery later in the day.
Juan Carlos Lopez, the Marine’s uncle, said Lopez always wanted to be a Marine.
Years ago, while still in high school, Lopez had his graduation date circled on a calendar in anticipation of being able to enlist.
“He told me, ‘Uncle J.C., this is when I graduate, and I’m letting you know right now, I’m going to be a Marine soon after,” Lopez said.
A third California Marine who was killed in Afghanistan, Lance Cpl. Dylan Merola, will be buried in Covina on Sept. 26.