‘He just had a lot of heart’: Norco honors beloved local marine killed in Kabul bombing

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Cpl. Kareem M. Nikoui, 20, of Norco was killed successful the Kabul airdrome bombing connected Aug. 26, 2021.

Scenes of the Kabul Airport attack stay caller successful the minds of many. And the images were peculiarly pugnacious to carnivore for Norco residents who celebrated the beingness of their ain fallen marine. 

Marine Lance Cpl. Kareem Mae’Lee Grant Nikoui was 1 of 13 work members killed successful enactment portion stationed astatine the Hamid Karzai International Airport Thursday, Aug. 26, days earlier the planned withdrawal of U.S. troops.

Like millions astir the world, Ashley Lopez, a erstwhile JROTC cadet, witnessed the images of hopeless citizens attempting to evacuate Afghanistan connected societal media, wherever she kept up to day with Nikoui and his day-to-day beingness overseas. 

“We were messaging each other, messing astir talking astir the bully ol’ times with 1 of my aged cadets,” Lopez said successful an interrogation Sunday, Aug. 29. “The past representation I saw of him was determination connected Snapchat — and I evidently didn’t cognize this was going to hap — but I privation I would person screenshot that picture.”

Former Norco High School AFJROTC Ashley Lopez plays Taps astatine the hilltop of Pumpkin Rock aft a march successful representation of unfortunate successful Kabul airdrome bombing Marine Lance Cpl. Kareem Nikoui of Norco connected Sunday Aug. 29, 2021. (Photo by Milka Soko, Contributing Photographer)

The Snapchat of the 20-year-old smiling alongside an Afghan kid nary longer exists for Lopez — it’s the mode the societal media programme works — but the representation volition service arsenic an enduring snapshot of Nikoui’s character.

Nikoui’s decease deed hard successful Norco, but it besides inspired a tone of perseverance passim the small, military-loyal municipality arsenic residents came unneurotic Sunday.

Norco remembers

Flags flying astatine half-staff fluttered successful the upwind on the roadworthy up to Mt. Shasta Place, wherever neighbors worked hard the nighttime anterior to decorate the fallen marine’s household location with banners of support. 

  • Supporters commencement hiking up to the hilltop of Pumpkin Rock for a march successful representation of unfortunate successful Kabul airdrome bombing Marine Lance Cpl. Kareem Nikoui of Norco connected Sunday Aug. 29, 2021. (Photo by Milka Soko, Contributing Photographer)

  • Lizzie Royal connected “Chief”, Kayla Lyness connected “Donald Trump”, and Melissa Knightlinger connected “Zeus” astatine the hilltop of Pumpkin Rock aft a march successful representation of unfortunate successful Kabul airdrome bombing Marine Lance Cpl. Kareem Nikoui of Norco connected Sunday Aug. 29, 2021. (Photo by Milka Soko, Contributing Photographer)

  • Supporters hike up to the hilltop of Pumpkin Rock for a march successful representation of unfortunate successful Kabul airdrome bombing Marine Lance Cpl. Kareem Nikoui of Norco connected Sunday Aug. 29, 2021. (Photo by Milka Soko, Contributing Photographer)

  • Supporters hike up to the hilltop of Pumpkin Rock for a march successful representation of unfortunate successful Kabul airdrome bombing Marine Lance Cpl. Kareem Nikoui of Norco connected Sunday Aug. 29, 2021. (Photo by Milka Soko, Contributing Photographer)

  • Supporters hike up to the hilltop of Pumpkin Rock for a march successful representation of unfortunate successful Kabul airdrome bombing Marine Lance Cpl. Kareem Nikoui of Norco connected Sunday Aug. 29, 2021. (Photo by Milka Soko, Contributing Photographer)

  • Supporters hike up to the hilltop of Pumpkin Rock successful representation of unfortunate successful Kabul airdrome bombing Marine Lance Cpl. Kareem Nikoui of Norco connected Sunday Aug. 29, 2021. (Photo by Milka Soko, Contributing Photographer)

  • Supporters congregate astatine the hilltop of Pumpkin Rock aft a march successful representation of unfortunate successful Kabul airdrome bombing Marine Lance Cpl. Kareem Nikoui of Norco connected Sunday Aug. 29, 2021. (Photo by Milka Soko, Contributing Photographer)

Up the thoroughfare astatine Pikes Peak Park, hundreds — if enactment much than 1,000; it was pugnacious to estimation the wide throng — gathered aft the decision of a pancake meal Sunday greeting for a memorial hike up to Pumpkin Rock, a fashionable section landmark.

The way resembles the Kabul terrain wherever the 2019 Norco High School postgraduate walked days earlier helium died. Blistering vigor and slippery slopes made it hard for the flag-carrying procession of horses, work members and civilians to scope the top. But a beauteous tribute awaited those who did.

Banners and flags waved portion Norco High School Principal Rob Ibbetson tapped the Statue of Liberty arsenic a metaphor for Nikoui’s beingness of service. “Taps” played from the highest of the elevation soon afterward.

  • Ashley and Karena Sylvester (half sisters of Nikoui’s sibling) clasp a banner successful grant of unfortunate successful Kabul airdrome bombing Marine Lance Cpl. Kareem Nikoui connected the hilltop of Pumpkin Rock successful Norco connected Sunday Aug. 29, 2021. (Photo by Milka Soko, Contributing Photographer)

  • Ontario CPL Veteran Fernando Allende stands with the US Marine Corps Flag astatine the hilltop of Pumpkin Rock aft a march successful representation of unfortunate successful Kabul airdrome bombing Marine Lance Cpl. Kareem Nikoui of Norco connected Sunday Aug. 29, 2021. (Photo by Milka Soko, Contributing Photographer)

  • Former Norco High School AFJROTC Ashley Lopez plays Taps astatine the hilltop of Pumpkin Rock aft a march successful representation of unfortunate successful Kabul airdrome bombing Marine Lance Cpl. Kareem Nikoui of Norco connected Sunday Aug. 29, 2021. (Photo by Milka Soko, Contributing Photographer)

  • Supporters near flowers and a Fallen Heroes spot astatine the basal of Pumpkin Rock aft a march successful representation of unfortunate successful Kabul airdrome bombing Marine Lance Cpl. Kareem Nikoui of Norco connected Sunday Aug. 29, 2021. (Photo by Milka Soko, Contributing Photographer)

  • Ed Huffman attends a march successful representation of unfortunate successful Kabul airdrome bombing Marine Lance Cpl. Kareem Nikoui of Norco astatine the hilltop of Pumpkin Rock connected Sunday Aug. 29, 2021. (Photo by Milka Soko, Contributing Photographer)

  • Chris Dargel (holding a flag) and supporters basal by the Pumpkin Rock aft a march successful representation of unfortunate successful Kabul airdrome bombing Marine Lance Cpl. Kareem Nikoui of Norco connected Sunday Aug. 29, 2021. (Photo by Milka Soko, Contributing Photographer)

  • Supporters congregate astatine the hilltop of Pumpkin Rock aft a march successful representation of unfortunate successful Kabul airdrome bombing Marine Lance Cpl. Kareem Nikoui of Norco connected Sunday Aug. 29, 2021. (Photo by Milka Soko, Contributing Photographer)

Lopez thought she would lone beryllium joined by a fewer friends erstwhile she shared a flyer connected Facebook announcing the hike, which was primitively planned arsenic a reunion for her and Nikoui portion helium was overseas.

But connection soon dispersed to different towns passim Inland Southern California, acknowledgment to assistance from Staff Sgt. David Spratley, who was a mentor to Norco’s mislaid comrade.

“There was a enactment of postulation coming successful this morning, and I cried,” Lopez said. “I was like: Wow! The metropolis of Norco truly came to amusement their emotion for Kareem.”

Supporters congregate astatine the hilltop of Pumpkin Rock aft a march successful representation of unfortunate successful Kabul airdrome bombing Marine Lance Cpl. Kareem Nikoui of Norco connected Sunday Aug. 29, 2021. (Photo by Milka Soko, Contributing Photographer)

‘He’ll ever person an impact’

It was fitting to spot truthful galore radical progressive successful this weekend’s tributes, Spratley said astatine the decision of the hike, considering however progressive Nikoui was successful each facets of life.

Kareem was conscionable ever progressive successful something, whether it was helping retired with the Pearl Harbor lawsuit oregon POW lawsuit down astatine the monument,” Spratley said. “He was a kid who was ever afloat of laughter and amusive and conscionable had a batch of heart.”

At the extremity of the day, though, each helium wanted to bash was serve.

So overmuch so, Spratley recalled regularly having to pursuit Nikoui to people due to the fact that the young marine was ever looking for an other accidental to signifier his craft.

As Nikoui’s drill instructor, Lopez knew she could number connected her caring and charismatic person who attended Holly Avenue Elementary School successful Arcadia and past First Avenue Middle School anterior to arriving successful assemblage of Norco.

“He was ace competent successful everything helium did,” she said, whether it was Jiu Jitsu, hanging retired with friends, oregon hiking. He ne'er mislaid interaction with who helium was oregon what helium aspired to achieve, a mindset that motivated those who weren’t fortunate capable to conscionable the fallen marine.

“I didn’t personally cognize Kareem but he’s affected a batch of us,” Norco High JROTC cadet Kaitlin Austin said successful an interrogation minutes earlier she rushed to assistance successful a aesculapian exigency — conscionable arsenic Nikoui would person erstwhile helium was a subordinate successful the program. “Even though he’s gone, he’s not forgotten due to the fact that he’ll ever person an interaction connected america freshman and sophomores — and I deliberation Norco arsenic a whole.”

  • Logan Ibbetson stands flags connected his mode down from the hilltop of Pumpkin Rock aft a march successful representation of unfortunate successful Kabul airdrome bombing Marine Lance Cpl. Kareem Nikoui of Norco connected Sunday Aug. 29, 2021. (Photo by Milka Soko, Contributing Photographer)

  • Oliver Shamber, 3, takes a interruption connected his mode up to the hilltop of Pumpkin Rock for a march successful representation of unfortunate successful Kabul airdrome bombing Marine Lance Cpl. Kareem Nikoui of Norco connected Sunday Aug. 29, 2021. (Photo by Milka Soko, Contributing Photographer)

  • Laurissa Provost watches from the apical of a boulder astatine the hilltop of Pumpkin Rock aft a march successful representation of unfortunate successful Kabul airdrome bombing Marine Lance Cpl. Kareem Nikoui of Norco connected Sunday Aug. 29, 2021. (Photo by Milka Soko, Contributing Photographer)

  • Leyna Provost, 12, watches from the apical of a boulder astatine the hilltop of Pumpkin Rock aft a march successful representation of unfortunate successful Kabul airdrome bombing Marine Lance Cpl. Kareem Nikoui of Norco connected Sunday Aug. 29, 2021. (Photo by Milka Soko, Contributing Photographer)

  • Supporters congregate astatine the hilltop of Pumpkin Rock aft a march successful representation of unfortunate successful Kabul airdrome bombing Marine Lance Cpl. Kareem Nikoui of Norco connected Sunday Aug. 29, 2021. (Photo by Milka Soko, Contributing Photographer)

“He was a leader,” chap JROTC cadet Gabrielle Murray said. “Whether you knew him oregon not, conscionable proceeding stories astir however helium would archer jokes if radical were upset and however helium ever tried to assistance retired those successful request since helium joined JROTC, was inspiring.”

Because she has household successful the Marine Corps, Austin tearfully said the calamity deed particularly hard for her.

“But Kareem’s communicative is 1 of perseverance and similar him, we should ne'er halt warring for what we judge in,” she added. “Something volition ever travel retired of the conflict successful the extremity conscionable similar thing came retired of it here. Kareem brought a assemblage unneurotic — and he’s a leader for that alone.”

Norco Mayor Kevin Bash told his assemblage that Nikoui rushed into the airdrome to drawback much children to guarantee their information — and that’s erstwhile the weaponry went off. It’s a communicative that touched — but did not astonishment — those who knew Nikoui best.

“You weren’t going to halt him from trying to spell backmost and rescue immoderate much people. But helium went retired doing what helium loved to bash — and that’s redeeming people,” Spratley said.

“Heaven,” Spratley added, “is getting a bully warrior.”

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