22-Year-Old Marine Killed in Afghanistan Airport Attack Was Always Thinking of Someone Else

Hunter Lopez's family remembers his loyal, "life of the party" spirit: the dedication to serve that brought him to the Marines and the job he was doing when he died last week

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Hunter Lopez. Photo: Lopez Family

Hunter Lopez was just following his heart four years ago when he enlisted in the Marine Corps. Living his life the way he wanted, say his parents: perpetually motivated by service, making time to help neighbors and friends — and never doing anything halfway.

Those principles translated to faithfully safeguarding his fellow Marines and unhesitatingly aiding the people of Afghanistan in the waning days of America's decades-long war there, which ended this week.

"Hunter would not be able to live with himself if he walked away without helping as many as he could," says his mother, Alicia Lopez. "And he wanted to make sure that the Marines he was with would come home — that was his mission. He felt like they were his responsibility."

On the afternoon of Aug. 26, Cpl. Hunter Lopez was killed along with 12 other U.S. service members in an attack at Kabul's airport in Afghanistan, while the military was safeguarding evacuations.

The suicide bombing and shooting — which officials believe was the work of the Islamic State — took the life of a young man beloved by his Indio, California, family and community. A young man who loved Star Wars and Nerf battles and so much else: his Oakley sunglasses, his camouflage Crocs and combing the internet for the latest tactical equipment and gear; his elderly dog Max, whom he bought with his own money when he was 10 years old.

Hunter was a young man always learning, training and working out, even when home on leave, to ensure he was the best Marine he could be, his loved ones say.

Gone.

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Hunter Lopez. Lopez Family
hunter lopez
Hunter Lopez. Lopez Family
hunter lopez
Hunter Lopez. Lopez Family

The attack, which killed nearly 200 people, extinguished the 22-year-old's plans to return to Indio after the Marines and begin a career in law enforcement, following in the footsteps of his parents — Alicia is a deputy and father Herman Lopez is a captain — with the Riverside County Sheriff's Department.

These plans were no surprise, says his dad. Hunter's love of service started early: bringing in groceries for neighbors, helping teachers with projects. He was part of his school's public-safety academy and the sheriff's department explorers. "Everywhere he went, it was just to help others," Herman says. "We definitely did not talk him into the military and we did not talk him into law enforcement — in fact, because of safety concerns, we suggested that he do other things. But he was committed."

The Lopezes say the Marine Corps seems to have inspired a greater confidence in their son, transforming him from a serious, reserved kid to a "very, very funny" and "life of the party" kind of young man. Hunter released his goofy side for the camera and loved organizing get-togethers for his buddies.

"Friends that he grew up with, from elementary to middle and high school, he stayed in touch with them," Herman says. "When he transitioned to new friends in the Marine Corps, he would try to unite them all when he'd come home. A lot of them were here at the house after we heard about his passing."

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Hunter Lopez (center) as a boy with his family. Lopez Family

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Hunter Lopez. Lopez Family

Doing "anything to help his boys," his mom says, extended even further: His other young Marines were sometimes inclined to get hitched just prior to a deployment. So Hunter became a mail-order ordained minister so that he'd be able to help his friends easily cross the marriage threshold, actually officiating at a ceremony for one grateful couple.

"We were concerned that it would not be official and he jokingly said, 'Well, that's on them, Mom,' " Alicia remembers. "All jokes aside, he gave them the best experience and made it special."

Hunter also kept a close eye on his family back in Indio. "Hunter was a big, big planner," Herman says. "People around here suggest that families come up with fire and earthquake evacuation plans. Hunter did all that for us — he had a blueprint of the house, he created plans and he put all our equipment in crates." He wanted to make sure his family, which includes teen siblings Owen and Trinity, were "safe and taken care of."

He cheered Trinity's college ambitions and supported Owen's desire to join the Army. "Hunter felt Owen could be a great Army Ranger," says Alicia.

On the evening of Thursday, Aug. 26, Owen returned to the family's home after enlisting. Shortly thereafter, the Lopezes received a knock on the door. It was the casualty notification officers.

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Hunter Lopez. Lopez Family
Hunter Lopez
Hunter Lopez. Riverside County Sheriff's Department/Facebook

Herman says he wants everyone to know that his son's calling was to help people. "That's why he was in Afghanistan," he says. "He wasn't there in any other capacity. Hunter was going to do anything he could possibly do and would not be able to live with himself if he walked away without helping as many people as he could."

"My kid was an amazing person and just worked to better himself," says Alicia. "He had the biggest heart. I don't know the words to use — but to say 'we're proud' isn't even enough for our son."

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