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Lawrence mourns Marine who died working with women, children in Kabul airport attack

Sgt. Johanny Rosario Pichardo. A Marine Sgt., she was killed at the Kabul Airport in Afghanistan.

As a teenager, Johanny Rosario devoted herself to service, enrolling in Junior ROTC at Lawrence High School.

On Thursday, her life ended as she performed a volunteer assignment for the US Marine Corps that only women could do in conservative Afghanistan: screen women and children trying to flee the country from Hamid Karzai International Airport.

Rosario, 25, was among two female Marine sergeants killed in the suicide bombing at Abbey Gate, the US Marine Corps said Saturday. The military listed her name as Johanny Rosario Pichardo, though her family uses a shortened name, Johanny Rosario, according to Lawrence Mayor Kendrys Vasquez.


The other female Marine killed in the attack was Sergeant Nicole L. Gee, 23, of Sacramento, Calif. The bombing took the lives of 13 US service members, including 11 Marines, and as many as 169 Afghans.

Rosario’s “service was not only crucial to evacuating thousands of women and children, but epitomizes what it means to be a Marine: putting herself in danger for the protection of American values so that others might enjoy them,” Marine First Lieutenant John “Jack” Coppolasaid Saturday in a statement. “She is a hero, and her legacy will never be forgotten.”

Outside Lawrence City Hall Saturday afternoon, officials said the community will honor her.

“This is a time for us to come together as one community to pay tribute to the heroic actions of Johanny, who in the spirit of a true Lawrencian gave her all to give refuge to those in need,” Vasquez said at a news conference conducted in English and Spanish.

He said he met Friday with Rosario’s mother and sister, who have asked for privacy.

Rosario’s mother “spoke of her daughter as a vibrant young person who wanted to give back to the community,” Vasquez said. “And as a result of that it is her mother’s desire that Johanny will be brought back to the city of Lawrence as the hero she is.”


The Marines said Rosario spent 6 1/2 years in the military and served as a supply chief for the 5th Marine Expeditionary Brigade based in the Persian Gulf nation of Bahrain.

On May 29, her brigade named her “Gator of the Week.” In a Facebook post, the brigade said Rosario Pichardo handled the supply section’s daily administrative functions and noted her “attention to detail and expertise” in handling financial matters.

“Congratulations on your hard work and valuable contributions to the mission,” the brigade wrote.

Her other military accolades include two Navy and Marine Corps Achievement medals, two Marine Corps Good Conduct medals, the Sea Service Deployment Ribbon, Global War on Terrorism Service Medal, National Defense Service Medal, and two letters of appreciation.

Retired US Army Major Kathleen Romano, who led Lawrence High’s Junior ROTC program when Rosario was enrolled, said she was a “true role model” to younger students, particularly female cadets.

“She was a smart, energetic, natural leader,” Romano said Saturday. “She was so excited about becoming a Marine and she had a commanding presence about her. When she walked into the room, everybody noticed her.”

As a cadet, Rosario volunteered at Cor Unum Meal Center in Lawrence, which serves more than 250,000 meals annually.

“She was someone who while in high school was actively serving people in need in Lawrence, the most economically troubled community in Massachusetts,” said the Rev. Paul O’Brien, pastor of St. Patrick Parish, which operates the meal center. “It comes as no surprise that she was willing to serve people in desperate trouble in Afghanistan.”


O’Brien said the photograph of Rosario released by the Marines, which shows her smiling in front of a US flag, captures her essence.

“She looks joyful in that picture because she was a joyful person,” he said.

The city feels “absolutely awful” about Rosario’s death, O’Brien said.

“Lawrence is profoundly a community of faith and so people have really responded with heartfelt prayer for her and for her family,” he said. “She was just a beautiful child of God and it’s terrible that she and other people have met this death.”

Jaime Melendez Jr., director of veterans’ services in Lawrence, said another leader of the high school’s US Army Junior Reserve Officers’ Training Corps program remembered Rosario as an “absolute warrior.”

“She is a daughter of Lawrence. She is a treasure to us,” said Melendez. “Her sacrifice, trust me, will not be in vain and we will not allow her to be forgotten.”

Rosario participated in Salem State University’s Upward Bound Program from 2011 until she graduated from high school in 2014, according to Wanda Marquez, who worked with her during those years.

Marquez said Rosario watched over other students.

“She was very special, very friendly, very smart,” Marquez said.

Marquez said when she asked Rosario for a photograph of her in her uniform, Rosario sent one right away.


“I remember she came to visit us and let us know about her decision to [join] the Marines,” Marquez wrote in an e-mail. “And every time she was in Lawrence, she always visited us.”

On Friday night, the Dominican Republic’s embassy in the United States tweeted that Rosario was originally from that Caribbean nation and offered condolences.

“We share in the pain of her family and friends, also the entire Dominican Community of Lawrence,” Sonia Guzmán, the Dominican ambassador to the US, tweeted in Spanish.

Massachusetts officials also honored Rosario.

US Senator Elizabeth Warren said she was a hero whose courage “saved thousands of lives and her selfless service represents the best of our country.”

“My heart aches for her loved ones,” the Massachusetts senator said in a statement. “We will not forget her sacrifice and we will fulfill our sacred obligation to them forever.”

US Senator Edward J. Markey said there “is no measure of thanks” for Rosario’s sacrifice.

“Our flags fly lower, our hearts hang heavy, and our gratitude runs eternal for” her, Markey said in a statement.

After high school, Rosario attended Bridgewater State University for a semester in the fall of 2014 and studied criminal justice.

Frederick W. Clark Jr., the university’s president, issued a statement Saturday expressing condolences and announcing plans to honor her at a ceremony marking the anniversary of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.

“While we knew her only briefly, it’s clear that Johanny lived the BSU motto ‘Not To Be Ministered Unto, but To Minister’ in her service to our country,” Clark said.


Gold Star mother Mary Ellen Callahan, left, and Gold Star sibling Kelsey Powers carried a wreath in remembrance of Marine Sergeant Johanny Rosario during a vigil hosted by Massachusetts Fallen Heroes on Saturday afternoon at its memorial in the Seaport District. Christiana Botic for The Boston Globe

In Boston’s Seaport District, the organization Massachusetts Fallen Heroes held a vigil Saturday afternoon honoring Rosario and the 12 other service members killed in the attack at the group’s memorial.

A wreath honoring Rosario was placed at the foot of the memorial’s 50-foot obelisk in front of 13 small candles. Her name will be added to the glass panels at the site.

Kerrie Griffin, an Air Force veteran, was among the crowd at the vigil.

“It’s devastating,” she said through welling tears. “It’s absolutely devastating to see what people gave up. This could have been avoided.”

Globe correspondents Andrew Brinker and Diti Kohli contributed to this report.

Laura Crimaldi can be reached at laura.crimaldi@globe.com. Follow her @lauracrimaldi.