Friends and family members are mourning the loss of a U.S. Marine from Parker who was killed in Afghanistan.
Cpl. David M. Sonka, a dog handler with the 2nd Marine Special Operations Battalion, died May 4 while conducting combat operations in Farah province in Afghanistan. The 23-year-old was based out of Camp Lejeune in North Carolina.
Maj. Jeff Landis, a public affairs officer for the Marine Corps Forces Special Operations Command, said a dignified transfer of Sonka's remains took place May 7.
Sonka's friends scheduled a candlelight vigil called “Tribute for a Hero” at 7:30 p.m. May 12 at Chaparral High School.
On a Facebook page dedicated to the event, Sonka's wife, Torey, expressed her gratitude for the outpouring of support from the community, saying she is “devastated” by the loss but “incredibly thankful” for messages from well-wishers. She said her husband “deserves the highest honor.”
The circumstances of Sonka's death are still under investigation. The Department of Defense will issue a statement once more details are confirmed, Landis said. He was unable to comment on reports that Sonka was one of the casualties of an insider attack allegedly perpetrated by an Afghan soldier.
Also killed in the attack were his dog, Flex, and Staff Sgt. Eric D. Christian, 39, of Warwick, N.Y.
Christian's brother, Philip, told New York media outlets that his brother and another Marine were training Afghan soldiers when one of them turned on the Americans and shot them during a patrol. The statement could not be independently verified.
Sara Webber, who knew Sonka since kindergarten and is helping to organize the “Tribute for a Hero” event, said he was an "outstanding guy, a hard worker and was dedicated to everything" he put his mind to. Sonka was involved in wrestling and cross-country at Chaparral High School. He graduated in 2008.
Webber was shocked when she learned of his death on Facebook. She decided to put together a candlelight vigil with a former classmate who was planning a memorial ceremony.
"He's a fallen hero and he deserves to be honored and recognized," Webber said. "I thought a candlelight vigil might bring his family out there and show them we're here for them."
Sonka was born in Aurora but moved to Parker at an early age and attended Cherokee Trail Elementary and Sierra Middle School.
Sonka joined the Marine Corps in August 2008 and graduated from recruit training in November 2008. He attended military police school in Fort Leonard Wood, Mo. Upon graduation, Sonka attended the Military Working Dog Handler Basic Course at Lackland Air Force Base in Texas. From July 2009 to March 2012, he was assigned to III Marine Expeditionary Force K9 Section at the Marine Corps Air Ground Combat Center in Twentynine Palms, Calif., and deployed in support of Operation Enduring Freedom.
Sonka was then assigned to the Marine Special Operations Combat Support Battalion, Marine Special Operations Support Group at Camp Lejeune. While there, he completed a special operations training course, and Multi-Purpose Canine Course Phase I and Phase II. He then was attached to 2nd Marine Special Operations Battalion as a multi-purpose canine handler.
Sonka's personal decorations include a Navy and Marine Corps Achievement Medal, Marine Corps Good Conduct Medal and a Combat Action Ribbon.
"He was an amazing person," said Webber, 23. "I hope everyone realizes that freedom doesn’t come free.”
Funeral arrangements have not yet been announced.