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Hundreds attend public wake in Lawrence for Marine sergeant killed in Kabul blast

Mourners paid their respect during the wake for Sergeant Johanny Rosario Pichardo at Veterans Memorial Stadium in Lawrence on Tuesday.
Mourners paid their respect during the wake for Sergeant Johanny Rosario Pichardo at Veterans Memorial Stadium in Lawrence on Tuesday.Craig F. Walker/Globe Staff

LAWRENCE — The younger brother of Marine Sergeant Johanny Rosario Pichardo, one of 13 US service members killed in a suicide bombing in Kabul last month, looked out at a sea of mourners who attended her public wake Tuesday and delivered a brief, moving tribute to the sister who held his family together.

“My older sister Johanny was so beautiful,” said Erick Rosario, during remarks at the wake, which drew more than 1,000 people under bright sunshine at Veterans Memorial Stadium. “She was such an amazing person. She was our family’s backbone. Whenever my mom or her siblings couldn’t, she [would] always find a way. My older sister taught me these wise words, and I’ll never forget it: not every situation needs a reaction.”

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His sister “will continue to give us strength within our will, and remind us to keep going forward. Because out of everything, my sister Johanny always wanted us to succeed. And everything from here on out will be done for her. We are proud of her, and now it’s time to make her proud. May you rest in peace, sis, and those along with her who passed. Thank you, Sergeant Johanny Rosario Pichardo, and to you all.”

Rosario Pichardo, 25, was killed at the Kabul airport on Aug. 26, helping Afghan families escape their country that was taken over by the Taliban.

“She knew that ultimately, she wanted to help people, specifically women and children,” her superior, Marine Captain Pascal DeMeo told mourners.

“She was part of the largest airlift operation in American history. Everything she did in Afghanistan contributed to saving over 124,000 lives.”

Rosario Pichardo’s body was returned to Massachusetts on Saturday, the 20th anniversary of the Sept. 11 terror attacks that launched the in war in Afghanistan.

“Sergeant Rosario was a hero . . . there were two women, two Afghan women being crushed” by a mob trying to overrun an airport gate on the day she died, he said.

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Rosario Pichardo, turned to an officer and stated simply, “they need me, sir.”

Governor Charlie Baker called Rosario Pichardo a “daughter of Lawrence” who volunteered at a food pantry as a teenager and aspired to join the Marine Corps from a young age.

“It’s often said that a hero is someone that puts themselves below all others, who puts others before themselves,” Baker said. “As a marine, as an auntie, as a social worker, as a servant, over and over again, her life exemplified what it means to be truly heroic.”

For over an hour and a half, a line of hundreds inched past her flag-draped casket, some stopping to offer a salute or a few seconds of silence. Many wiped away tears.

Raven Serrano said her boyfriend is a soldier who was with Rosario Pichardo in Afghanistan two days before she was killed.

“He’s still grieving through it,” Serrano said, noting her boyfriend also knew her from Lawrence. “She was an angel on Earth.”

Rosario Pichardo, a Lawrence High School graduate, was the recipient of military accolades including the Global War on Terrorism Service Medal and National Defense Service Medal.

Cardinal Sean P. O’Malley said her private funeral Mass on Monday at St. Mary of the Assumption Church in Lawrence. She was buried after Tuesday’s wake at Bellevue Cemetery.

Mayor Kendrys Vasquez spoke of the pride the city feels for Rosario Pichardo.

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“Johanny was a daughter, a granddaughter, a sister, a cousin, an aunt, a friend, a Lawrencian,” Vasquez said, adding that she participated in JROTC at Lawrence High School. “She was one of us. Today she will be able to finally rest in her home, the city of Lawrence.”

Family members greeted mourners during the wake for Sgt. Johanny Rosario Pichardo.
Family members greeted mourners during the wake for Sgt. Johanny Rosario Pichardo.Craig F. Walker/Globe Staff

Among the mourners were active service members from each branch of the military, a throng of retired veterans, police officers, and firefighters, as well as many residents of Lawrence and other communities across the state.

“This could have been my son,” said Donatella Levangie of Mansfield, who said her son is a military police officer in the Army. “I can’t even fathom what the mother is going through.”

She hoped the outpouring of respect for Rosario Pichardo would provide some solace for the fallen Marine’s her family.

“I want the families to know that all of these people, even though we didn’t know her, we all love her and appreciate her sacrifice,” Levangie said.

Boston Cardinal Sean O’Malley delivered remarks at the funeral Mass of fallen Marine Sergeant Johanny Rosario Pichardo at St. Mary of the Assumption Church in her hometown of Lawrence.
Boston Cardinal Sean O’Malley delivered remarks at the funeral Mass of fallen Marine Sergeant Johanny Rosario Pichardo at St. Mary of the Assumption Church in her hometown of Lawrence. Gregory L. Tracy/Gregory L. Tracy/ The Pilot

Travis Andersen can be reached at travis.andersen@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @TAGlobe. Andrew Brinker can be reached at andrew.brinker@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter at @andrewnbrinker.