Veterans Day honors for Lance Cpl. Mario Arias, who was murdered Nov. 6 by a fellow Marine at Camp Pendleton.
The stories and speeches at Friday's memorial for Mario Arias, Jr., are going to be funny instead of sad.
Because the horrific way that the 19-year-old Canoga Park Marine was murdered – beaten to death by a fellow soldier before he even had a chance to serve the country he loved – is just too terrible to think about.
“I’m going to talk about the kind of person that he was and share some funny memories,” said Jen Romero, a close high school friend. “His mom really wants to hear funny memories of him because she’s really devastated. “
But even laughter may not cure - or even mask - this pain.
The lance corporal was found dead in his bed at Camp Pendleton last Sunday morning at about 1 a.m. Ed Buice, spokesman for the Naval Criminal Investigative Service, said Arias’ alleged assailant, a fellow Marine, jumped out of a third-story window after the attack, but survived.
The gruesome attack shocked friends and family, and left the community shaken around Canoga Park High School, Arias' alma mater.
What started as a quiet memorial – flowers and candles placed lovingly on the stairs leading to the school auditorium – has grown into a full-fledged memorial service, with a Marine unit on hand to play Taps and Arias’ family in attendance. A Facebook page chronicles efforts by students, alumni and Marine Corps. families to honor him.
The teen, said those who knew him, was an extraordinary person.
He graduated in 2010 from Canoga Park High School poised for success, with good grades and lots of friends. He volunteered at a local fire station as an Explorer Scout. He was a leader.
When the school made a video to try to draw local middle school students to Canoga Park, they enlisted Arias.
“He was the spokesperson for our video to bring new students to the school,” said Valerie Olenick, a teacher who knew him well. “I have a video that we take to all of the middle schools and Mario is the announcer.”
A tireless worker on the school yearbook, Arias once stayed well into the night, taking photographs of students with their mothers for a special project, said Olenick, who is the yearbook adviser. He took care of his younger brother, and revered his older sister, following her into the Marine Corps last year.
“The idea that someone would want to hurt a person like that is just beyond comprehension,” she said.
In the Marines, he was training with an air crew from Marine Light Attack Helicopter Training Squadron 303 of the 3rd Marine Aircraft Wing.
Navy investigators are being tight-lipped about the events that led up to Arias’ death. But a published report in a local newspaper speculated that he may have confronted his assailant about alcohol abuse, inadvertently provoking a deadly rage.
The memorial, to be held at Canoga Park High School, 6850 Topanga Canyon Boulevard in Canoga Park at 4 p.m., is open to the public.