Paso Robles, Calif. Mary Ventura of Paso Robles faced a sullen crowd at St. Rose Catholic Church on Thursday as she read a letter to her brother, Sgt. 1st Class Richard Lopez, who died Jan. 5 after an altercation in Steamboat Springs.
"As you told me, we are two of the same," she read aloud. "You will always be a part of me."
Lopez, 37, was born in San Luis Obispo, Calif. He grew up in Arroyo Grande and attended Arroyo Grande High School.
He joined the Army as an Infantryman in 1994 and succeeded to become a communications sergeant assigned to the 3rd Battalion, 7th Special Forces Group, Airborne.
His Army colleagues, dressed in uniform, sat with Lopez's many family members and friends in the wooden pews.
The morning ceremony was full of song and prayers. Sunlight filtered into the room from tall stained-glass windows. Loved ones hugged and gazed at Lopez's casket positioned in the front, draped in a delicate cloth to symbolize his baptism. It was later covered in an American flag.
Two poster boards displayed pictures of his life at the entrance to the church. Lopez was seen smiling as a little boy, hanging out with friends, but also professional and serious in camouflage.
His uncle, Albert Alvarez, stood at the podium and said as a youth, Lopez once told him he wanted to "climb all the way to the top" when he joined the military.
He was on his way, colleagues said, describing him as a natural leader, someone who encouraged others to always do their best.
Alvarez said Lopez had two families that meant everything to him - "his civilian family and his military family."
Lopez served at multiple duty stations, stateside and overseas. His tours include Fort Campbell, Ky.; the Republic of South Korea; Fort Bragg, N.C.; Gainesville, Fla.; Iraq; and Afghanistan.
His awards and decorations were numerous, and include a Purple Heart for when he was shot in the abdomen in Afghanistan.
He recovered and later rejoined his group, colleagues said, noting he was the heart and soul of the team.
Lopez died of severe head and brain trauma after a fight in the early morning hours of Jan. 2. Steamboat Springs police have identified and interviewed two suspects in the case.
No arrests have been made, and the investigation is ongoing.