A roadside memorial had grown on Monday to include hundreds of candles, bouquets of flowers and about a dozen posters covered with photographs and heart-felt notes memorializing the victims of the fatal car crash in Burbank on Saturday.
Friends and former classmates gathered in mourning at the scene, where the single-car crash claimed the lives of five young men and women, and left one injured.
While authorities have not confirmed their identities, the five who were killed were identified by friends visiting the memorial as Malak Hariri, Sebastian Forero, Stephen Stoll, Sugey Cuevas and Sameer Nevarez.
All of the victims attended Burbank schools, and all had graduated within the last five years.
A sixth passenger, an 18-year-old woman, was the sole survivor. She was being treated for non-life threatening injuries, according to police.
“The first day, I was in denial – I didn’t really let myself believe it,” said Oscar Gonzalez, a 2012 graduate of John Burroughs High School, who went to school with Forero, Cuevas and Nevarez, all of whom he described as joyous and inspiring.
He said the news hit him hard on Sunday.
“I’m just praying for their families, for their souls, for the healing of everyone hurt,” Gonzalez said.
The initial police investigation indicated that the vehicle was traveling south on San Fernando Boulevard at a high speed and lost control near the Scott Road off-ramp. After slamming into a concrete pillar, the vehicle caught fire.
Katherine Laprell, a former Burroughs student who Nevarez and saw him just four days ago, said she’s still in shock by the news.
“People need to be more careful – I really hope this is a wake-up call for everybody,” Laprell said. “I’ve never had a tragic loss like this happen.”
Charred debris remained at the scene, where people gathered throughout the day, mostly in silence.
“We are walking among their ashes,” said Lourdes Cordia, who said that her daughter played water polo with Hariri. “Maybe God needed more [souls] up there for people to know how precious life is.”
Two psychologists were sent to both Burbank and John Burroughs high schools Monday to offer support and counseling services to students and staff, and assist the school psychologists already stationed at each school.
Yadi Pedroza, who said she was friends with the lone survivor of the crash, said she plans to take advantage of the extra counseling services available for students at Burroughs, where she’s a senior.
“It’s sad to know that my biggest fear just happened,” Pedroza said. “Hopefully, time will heal.”
Burbank Mayor Emily Mayor Emily Gabel-Luddy released a statement Monday on behalf of the Burbank City Council regarding the crash.
“Our hearts go out to the families and friends of the young people who lost their lives so tragically Saturday morning. Our thoughts are also with the young woman who survived and her family and friends, as this is an especially painful time for them,” Gabel-Luddy said.
The City Council plans to hold a moment of silence during its meeting on Tueday in honor of the crash victims.
“A tragedy of this magnitude affects the entire community, particularly one as close knit as Burbank. Due to the young age of the victims, it is important that we pay close attention to their peers as they navigate the grieving process,” Gabel-Luddy said in the statement.
She added that the Burbank Police Department is partnering with the Burbank Unified School District, Los Angeles County Department of Mental Health and Family Service Agency of Burbank to ensure that the necessary resources are available for those in need.
“The entire Burbank community feels the grief over this accident and we stand ready to assist,” Gabel-Luddy said. “Burbank is a resilient community whose strength will help all of us to weather this trying time.”
– Alene Tchekmedyian, firstname.lastname@example.org
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