University of Central Missouri Honors 25-Year-Old Killed in Afghanistan

November 10, 2021

By Maura Casey

“Supporting veterans, in every way possible.” That’s the way Shomarri Taylor expresses the mission of the University of Central Missouri’s Veteran’s Upward Bound program.

As the assistant director, she helps plan the program’s special recognition for vets when the university football team, The Mules, holds its military appreciation game. This past summer, Taylor and her staff decided to organize activities highlighting the contributions of veterans during the tailgate period before the game.

But in August, a suicide bomber in Afghanistan attacked a crowd of civilians and servicemen at Kabul’s airport. Among the 13 American troops killed was 25-year-old Marine Sgt. Johanny Rosario Pichardo of Lawrence, Mass. She was an alumna of Upward Bound who had attended Lawrence High School before enlisting in the Marine Corps seven years before. At the time of her death, Rosario Pichardo had accumulated more than 80 college credits toward a degree.

To Taylor, the fact that the late sergeant had been a member of the TRIO program meant a lot. “She was an upward bound album. She was part of the TRIO family. If you are part of the TRIO family, we have your back,” she said.

The focus of military appreciation activities changed to honoring Rosario Pichardo and raising money for her family. Taylor and others posted a picture of Rosario Pichardo in uniform during activities. It didn’t matter that Rosario Pichardo never attended college in Missouri, and wasn’t part of their program, Taylor said.

“She was a TRIO family member. We wanted to honor her.” For $1 a throw, people bought the rights to toss a pie in the face of the program’s staff members, along with the head of the ROTC. “All the cadets signed up,” to throw a pie in the face of their commander, Taylor laughed.

In total, the program raised $200 for Rosario Pichardo’s family. Taylor said that had she lived, the sergeant would have gone far. “When you have a student in a TRIO program they have goals and dreams. For her to successfully complete the Upward Bound program said a lot about her,” Taylor said.