FRESNO -- A 21-year-old soldier from Porterville who was described as an all-American boy and who hoped to someday open a pizza parlor in Chicago has died in Afghanistan.
The Army notified the family of Alejandro Jose "AJ" Pardo on Monday morning of his death, his aunt Pandora Taylor of Winnetka said. Pardo died Sunday, but his death has yet to be officially announced by the Pentagon.
Friends said word spread via Facebook messages and phone calls.
Pardo is the fourth person from the Porterville area to die in the Afghanistan and Iraq wars and the 45th in the Central San Joaquin Valley to die in battle or training overseas since 2003, according to an unofficial tally.
According to his Facebook page, Pardo was a 2009 graduate of Granite Hills High School who joined the Army about a month after graduating and was a military policeman based at Fort Bliss, Texas.
Pardo played cello in middle school and performed with a school orchestra at Carnegie Hall in New York City, said Veronica Padilla, a parent of a former classmate.
As a teen, Pardo was active in the church youth group at St. Anne's Parish. A prayer service for Pardo was held Tuesday night at Holy Cross Church in Porterville.
Hannah Risvold, 20, of Springville, said she spoke via the Internet with Pardo a few days ago. He told her he lost friends in the war a few days earlier and was excited at the prospect of coming home in November.
"He was an all-American kid," said Risvold, who was in the church youth group with Pardo when they were teens. "He always had a smile on his face." His aunt said he volunteered to go to Afghanistan but imagined the day he would be out of uniform.
"He told me when he got out of the service that he really wanted to open a pizza restaurant in Chicago," Taylor said.
Aneliz Jimenez, a former member of the church youth group, said she gave him a small pink bow when he left for assignment in Korea.
"I told him he needs a dash of color," Jimenez said. "He wore it under his uniform. A year later when he got back, he told me he was still wearing it."
An Army spokesman said the service usually waits 24 hours after the family is notified before making a public announcement of a soldier's death.
If there are multiple deaths from a single incident, the names are not released until all families are notified and 24 hours have passed, Army spokesman George Wright said.
Six soldiers died in an IED blast Sunday in Maidan Shahr, Afghanistan, and it appears this is the incident in which Pardo died.