Emotional Gathering at Merced Fallen Hero's Homecoming

Merced, Calif. A plane carried the flag-draped casket of Private First Class Lukas Hopper home to his family. Moments before it arrived at the Merced Airport, his mother tearfully told friends this was the last place she saw her son alive before he left for Iraq.

Several of Hopper's comrades from the 82nd Airborne carried his coffin off the runway as his parents, sisters, and friends stood in somber silence.

Family friend Kay Alcorn said, "I look at these Army soldiers and I see Luke, and I'm very proud to be a part of this. He deserves this and more."

The 20 year old had been in Iraq for nearly a year when he was killed in a humvee crash last week. He had just nine days left on his deployment.

Hopper's cousin Justin Pinasco said, "He was doing what he wanted to do, and the whole thing is unfortunate that he didn't make it home to us next weekend in a different way."

Instead, Hopper's journey on Friday ended with a procession from the airport to a local funeral home for a public viewing. Those closest to the Golden Valley High School graduate gathered in the parking lot to share memories of the young man they describe as adventurous and outgoing.

Hopper's aunt Paula Kruczyk said, "He was a jokester who (life of the party all the time) all his decisions were made on what would be the biggest shock factor. How can I make people wonder what I'm up to?"

Friends say Hopper's playful spirit and loving heart made an impact on everyone around him. And his memory will live on in those he left behind.

"It's an honor to have known him," said Alcorn.

Saturday morning, the public is being invited to another viewing from 8:00 to 10:00 a.m. The funeral will follow afterwards. Hopper will be buried at Cathey's Valley Cemetery on Saturday.

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