The remains of U.S. Marine Cpl. Hunter Lopez were flown back to the Coachella Valley from Afghanistan, arriving Thursday at the Palm Springs International Airport.
The Lopez family was at the airport to receive his casket on the tarmac before a somber procession made its way through Coachella Valley. Thousands of people gathered to mourn a local hero.
It was the first in an emotional stretch of three days honoring the fallen Marine. People lined the streets throughout the procession route, including at the Riverside County Sheriff's station on Cook Street in Palm Desert.
Procession to honor fallen Marine Cpl. Hunter Lopez is now underway in Cathedral City. Supporters are lining the streets through Palm Desert and La Quinta to honor the hero and his family. Streaming here: https://t.co/4Tkd9yGFNM pic.twitter.com/RGrDofK8Jq— KESQ News Channel 3 (@KESQ) September 17, 2021
The station was just one place where the public was invited to come and take part in Thursday's procession through the valley.
By 5:00 p.m., there were signs set up on Gerald Ford drive in anticipation of that procession driving past the station. A series of signs read ‘Thank you for your service Lopez family…Land of the free because of the brave.’
From the station on Cook Street, the casket and procession continued to Highway 111 and ultimately ended at St. Francis of Assisi Church on Washington in La Quinta.
The procession arrived at St. Francis church in La Quinta where Sheriff's officials saluted the casket before Lopez's remains were carried inside.
WATCH: Coverage of the return of fallen Marine here
Lopez, a 22-year-old Indio native, was killed in the terrorist attack at the Kabul airport in Afghanistan on August 26. It happened while people were being evacuated as the Taliban fighters took over Afghanistan. The blast killed 13 U.S. Service members, including two others from Riverside County. Those who were killed are being awarded the Purple Heart. At least 15 American service members were hurt, including Corporal Salvador Lule of Indio.
People are invited Thursday at 5:30 p.m. to line the sidewalks for a procession from Forest Lawn Funeral Home in Cathedral City, past the Palm Desert Sheriff's Station, and ending at St. Francis church in La Quinta.
News Channel 3 has crews throughout the procession route and will have live reports tonight starting at 5:00 p.m.
Starting 9 a.m. Friday, another procession will take Lopez past the three Desert Sands Unified schools he attended before becoming a Marine: Amelia Earhart Elementary School, John Glenn Middle School, and La Quinta High School.
"The character of that young man just shines. I'm proud to know that he was a Red Hawk and I'm proud to be a Marine along with him."Todd Biggert, principal at John Glenn Middle School
John Glenn Middle School Principal Todd Biggert said his students are gearing up to pay their respects Friday as the procession passes by. "We've got 1,100 students that are going to be lining that entryway as they come in," he said. "They've got flags; the teachers are gonna be wearing (matching memorial shirts)."
La Quinta High School Principal Dr. Rudy Wilson said his students have been hit hard by the loss. Lopez's sister, Trinity, is a senior there now.
"It's been tough," Wilson said. "We have no shortage of students who would like to show their respect and appreciation for Hunter and his family."
At a La Quinta High School volleyball game Tuesday, the team honored the Lopez family. Parents Herman and Alicia were present – Trinity Lopez is a player on the team.
Mayor of La Quinta Linda Eans said the procession was planned by Lopez's family and will be important to their healing, and the community.
"To be able to provide perhaps some closure for those students who knew him or know his brother and sister, that will be very special, for not only all of the teachers to be able to participate, but the students that are there on campus," Evans said.
After the procession past the schools Friday, Lopez will return to St. Francis in La Quinta where the public can attend a viewing.
A memorial service will be held Saturday at the Palm Springs Convention Center at 11 a.m. It's open to the public and large screens will be available to watch the ceremony.
Then, a procession will take Lopez to the Riverside National Cemetery where he will be laid to rest.