COLUMBIA — People entered with long faces and teary eyes. Some were in shock, others were grieving, but all were remembering the smiling face that left their world Thursday night.
More than 60 of Aditi Avhad's friends, teachers and colleagues gathered in Stotler Lounge on Friday evening for a memorial service organized by MU's Cultural Association of India.
Avhad, an MU international graduate student from Mumbai, was killed Thursday when the Megabus she was traveling in hit a concrete bridge pillar. The accident left dozens injured, but Avhad was the only reported death.
Reverent silence gave way to speeches from those who knew Avhad. They talked of her love of food, her intelligence, her persistent willingness to help and, most of all, her ability to make everyone around her feel warm.
Ranadhir Mitra, an adviser for the cultural association, relayed news of Avhad's parents, who had traveled from India to Chicago to visit her. She'd met them there, and the family was on its way back to Columbia when the accident took place.
Avhad's father, Raghunath Avhad, sustained only minor injuries, but Mitra reported that Avhad's mother, Vaishali Avhad, underwent surgery for a severe spinal cord injury Friday evening.
Mitra said the main question students were asking was, “What will happen to the parents?” He's reached out to the Indian community in St. Louis, and they will be able to offer support to Avhad's family. The immediate future, Mitra assured guests, is taken care of; beyond that, though, the family could use more help.
“We are trying to do all we can, but we have a lot more to do concerning health issues,” Mitra said before encouraging students to raise funds to support the family in any way it needs.
Many students were also worried about Avhad’s elder brother, Priyank, who is still in India.
Becky Showmaker, a representative from the International Center, made contact with him. She read a statement he'd sent her, which said that he was thankful for the entire community that gave its support to his family and to him.
In the statement, he recalled speaking to his sister only a day ago. He'd complained that she hadn't sent him a Rakhi. In Indian culture, a Rakhi is a string that a sister ties on her brother's wrist to wish him good health in exchange for his lifelong protection.
“I could not protect her,” Priyank said in the statement.
Many people came up to talk about Avhad, but the common theme among them all was her beautiful smile.
Alice Raphael, a friend, said she celebrated New Year's Eve with Avhad last year. They went to The Blue Note together and enjoyed counting down the seconds. Raphael remembered that Avhad wanted to leave early because she wanted to wish her parents a happy new year. She returned back to her apartment just to Skype them, Raphael said.
Roya Ferozi met Avhad when she arrived to Columbia last year. They took a trip to Walmart, and Ferozi sat next to her during the ride. Ferozi said she'd come to the memorial because she knew Avhad and she received an email from the International Center.
Nikhil Tindal, president of the Cultural Association of India, organized the memorial. He was pleased with the turnout, saying Avhad's closest friends were there to pay their last respects.
Like many others in attendance, Tindal knew Avhad as "a girl with a smile on her face." He said Saturday would have marked one year since they first met.
Supervising editor is Hannah Cushman.