‘Our Heart Breaks': Hundreds of Hikers Honor SoCal Marine Killed in Afghanistan Bombing

Lance Corporal Kareem Nikoui, 20, of Norco, was one of four California Marines killed in the attack during the airport evacuation operation in Kabul.

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Hundreds of people turned out for a hike Sunday in honor of a Southern California Marine killed in a bombing during the evacuation at Afghanistan’s Hamid Karzai International Airport in Kabul. 

Loved ones said Lance Cpl. Kareem Nikoui, a 2019 Norco High School graduate, had planned to go on the hike with a friend after returning from service overseas. The 20-year-old Camp Pendleton Marine was one of 13 U.S. service members, including four from California, killed in the bombing

Many of the mourners who gathered for the hike to Pumpkin Rock carried flags to the peak, where a large round rock painted like a jack-o-lantern appears to look out at the sweeping view. “Taps” was played in a solemn ceremony at the top of the hill. 

The event was organized by the Norco High School Junior ROTC, the Corona-Norco Unified School District and the city. 

Melissa Danieley, former president of the Junior ROTC Parent Corps, said Nikoui would have been touched by the gesture. 

“We’re a family, so our heart breaks,” Danieley said. 

The hike was the second stop Sunday for some participants who were part of an early morning fundraiser. The $5 pancake breakfast at America Legion Post 328 in Norco raised money to help his family.

“It’s a mother’s worst nightmare,” said Natalie George, who organized the event. “When you see all the love and support, it means a lot.”

In the corner of a the room, 13 glasses of beer were placed on a table with 13 empty chairs — one for each service member, ranging in age from 20 to 31, killed in the attack. 

One was from Norco and the other from Riverside. Tony Shin reports for the NBC4 News on Friday, Aug. 27, 2021.

Cpl. Hunter Lopez, 22, of Indio, Lance Cpl. Dylan Merola, 20, of Rancho Cucamonga and Sgt. Nicole Gee, 23, of Sacramento also were killed. 

The fallen service members were carried off a C-17 aircraft Sunday in 13 cases draped with American flags at the Dover Air Force Base. Eleven of the dead were Marines, one was a Navy sailor, and another was an Army solider.

The blast killed 169 Afghans, many seeking to leave the country aboard military planes and flee Taliban rule.

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