The remains of a Marine sergeant from Massachusetts who was killed in Afghanistan returned to Lawrence on Saturday.
Gov. Charlie Baker and members of Massachusetts' congressional delegation were in attendance as the body of Sgt. Johanny Rosario Pichardo touched down in Massachusetts on a flight to Boston Logan International Airport.
On the tarmac, the fallen Marine's family greeted her casket as it was removed from a charter plane, with members of the military standing at attention. It was an emotional scene as they hovered over the casket, consumed with tears of grief, and clinched the American flag.
As the casket was escorted to Lawrence, scores of people appeared by the highway waving flags. Tractor-trailers pulled to the side of the road, firefighters saluted from the tops of fire trucks and massive flags were hung for the convoy to drive under.
PHOTOS: Hundreds Pay Respects to Fallen Marine From Lawrence
The procession moved through Lawrence, and flags were arrayed outside the Farrah Funeral Home where she was taken. Officials greeted the Rosario Pichardo family.
Emotions amongst complete strangers and those who have known Rosario Pichardo since elementary school began to pour out.
“She was always trying to make everyone feel included and welcome and just a lively person,” Rosanna Inirio said of Rosario Pichardo, who she attended school with. "She was so young. She’s 25. So am I. Knowing that she had so much life left to live and so much left to do and she was going to accomplish so many great things.”
But the great things she did accomplish, all of Lawrence is proud of.
“She came from Lawrence. We’re from Lawrence. We definitely wanted to come out and show some love,” one woman said Saturday.
And her fellow Dominican natives are celebrating her.
“We Dominicans are adapting to this country. Helping this country and making a difference. Johanny was one of ours,” another woman shared.
Of the turnout Saturday, Lawrence Mayor Kendrys Vasquez said, "The city of Lawrence came out to show respect and honor one of its daughters. Johanny Rosario Pichardo, a daughter of the city of Lawrence.”
A funeral Mass will be held Monday morning at St. Mary's of the Assumption Church for Rosario Pichardo's family and other invited guests.
On Tuesday, there will be a public wake at Veterans Memorial Stadium next to Lawrence High School, where Rosario Pichardo, who was of Dominican descent, graduated. She'll be laid to rest at Bellevue Cemetery, in a section reserved for military veterans.
Saturday is the 20th anniversary of the 9/11 attacks, which were marked in a solemn ceremony in Boston that Baker attended before the return of Rosario Pichardo's remains.
"The recent deaths of 13 servicemen and women, including Lawrence's own Johanny Rosario Pichardo at the hands of a suicide bomber, put a horrific exclamation point on the price that so many have paid" in the last 20 years, Baker said.
Those 13 U.S. service members were working to process people who wanted to evacuate Afghanistan through Kabul's airport amid the U.S. withdrawal when a terrorist bomb ripped through the crowd. The military pulled out days later, ending America's longest war.
Rosario Pichardo served with the Naval Amphibious Force, Task Force 51/5th Marine Expeditionary Brigade. She was posthumously awarded a Purple Heart, along with the others killed in the attack.
Last week, Rosario Pichardo was remembered at a vigil at Veterans Memorial Stadium. Baker, Rep. Lori Trahan and 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.