A vigil was held in Lawrence, Massachusetts, Tuesday to honor Marine Sgt. Johanny Rosario, one of 13 U.S. service members killed in a suicide bombing outside Kabul's airport last week.
The vigil honoring Rosario's life was held at Veterans Memorial Stadium, where Gov. Charlie Baker, Rep. Lori Trahan and Mayor Kendrys Vasquez spoke to a crowd that repeatedly cheered the Marine's name.
With song and prayer, candles and gratitude for service and sacrifice, hundreds turned out to thank the hometown hero and her family for all she meant to the city and the country.
Baker said he was proud of and inspired by the person she became: "a proud Dominican American, a daughter, sister, girlfriend and auntie. A student and a teacher. A caretaker. A United States Marine."
“Her mission was an honorable one,” Trahan said. "Working around the clock to get Americans and our allies to safety.
Citing a letter written about her and conversations with her loved ones, the governor said Rosario "ran slower than a tortoise through peanut butter…but she never ran away from her problems, she attacked them head-on."
He said she is believed to have been on a team screening women and children at a gate of Hamid Karzai International Airport, and "helped over 30,000 people reach safety before she was killed by a suicide bomber."
American flags were arrayed around the stadium, and Vasquez had asked attendees to wear black ribbons.
“I came out to support one of my fallen sisters,” said Kristopher Hernandez, who served in the Marines. “She gave her life serving the country, serving the people that left Afghanistan.”
“We’re going to miss her a lot,” said Felix Alvarado, a neighbor and family friend who knew Johanny as a child.
“I remember her talking, saying she wanted to be successful in life and bring her family more together,” said Alvarado.
The marine was remembered as a protector of the most vulnerable, and the leader of the pack at home.
“The vigil was more like a send off for her,” said Lawrence resident Iris Rivera. “Let her know and her family know that we’re blessed to have her and everything she did for us.”
The community promised to never forget her name or her sacrifice.
“I hope you all take a moment and remember one of our brightest stars,” Baker said. “Johanny Rosario Pichardo.”
Ahead of the memorial, the mayor said, "I think this is an opportunity for us to ensure that we will always remember and never forget Johanny Rosario."
Rosario's family was expected to be at the vigil, but did not speak. They have requested privacy during this time.
Her brother, Erick Rosario, said Johanny was the oldest of four in their tight-knit Dominican family, and her death in Thursday's explosion leaves behind a sister, two brothers and her heartbroken parents. She was 25.
"My sister, she lost her life for the United States and ... my mom's just been receiving nothing but bad news, you know, left and right, and it's not right," Erick Rosario said.
Capt. Austin Keeley, Rosario's officer in charge before she deployed to the Middle East, said Rosario was fiercely proud of her heritage as a Dominican American.
"She wanted to set a good example for her siblings and niece and show that hard work would lead to success....Rosie was so good that we never doubted her," Keeley wrote on his personal social media pages. "She received not one, but two medals during the 15-months we worked together for her exceptional performance.”
Jaime Melendez called the news of Rosario's death personally devastating. In his decade serving as the director of Lawrence Veterans Services, he said, he's worked with hundreds of Junior Reserve Officers' Training Corps, or JROTC, members, but Rosario was special.
"There's always some that stick out, you know, they just – they have a light about them, if you will. She was definitely one of those," Melendez said.
Vasquez, the city's mayor, met with Rosario's family Monday evening at their home and announced the family wished to move forward with a vigil, inviting the community to attend to pay honor and respect to their loved one.
Dozens attended a separate vigil in Rosario's memory last weekend in Boston that was hosted by Massachusetts Fallen Heroes, an organization founded by veterans who served in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Rosario, who was of Dominican origin, served with the Naval Amphibious Force, Task Force 51/5th Marine Expeditionary Brigade.
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A 2014 graduate of Lawrence High School, Rosario spent a semester at Bridgewater State University before enlisting as a full-time U.S. Marine.
"Though she was only on our campus for a short period of time, she's still one of us and she'll be considered a Bear for life," said Brian Duchaney, program lead at the Office of Military and Veteran Students Services at Bridgewater State University.
Fellow veterans stopped by the family's home in Lawrence Monday to pay their respects.
"The community is very affected, very affected," said Jackei Marmol. "We have all come together, we are all in grief."
President Joe Biden has called the fallen military members heroes who represent the best of America.
Rosario was assigned to the 5th Marine Expeditionary Brigade and was helping to process the crowd flocking to Kabul's international airport amid the frantic evacuation of the U.S. and its allies when the suicide bombing took place -- also killing scores of Afghans.
The U.S. military's mission in the country came to an end Monday -- early Tuesday morning in Kabul -- as the last American troops flew out of Afghanistan, ending the longest war in U.S. history.