More than 200 people came together in a University of Auckland chapel in New Zealand on Saturday to mourn the loss and celebrate the lives of three Boston University students killed a week ago in a car crash near Taupo.
The service opened with the lighting of three candles to honor Austin Brashears, 21, of California; Daniela Lekhno, 20, of New Jersey; and Roch Jauberty, 21, of Paris, who grew up in California. They were killed when a van they were riding in flipped over during an early-morning drive to a volcanic park, where they planned to hike.
Friends and loved ones took turns sharing their memories of the victims. More than 100 photographs of their adventures in New Zealand were shown to the audience. The service ended with a rousing rendition of the song “Free Fallin’,” according to Fred Williams, a BU student who was Jauberty’s roommate in New Zealand.
“The overall message was honestly to live life to the fullest,” said Williams. “All three individuals who were harmed and killed in that accident all lived life to the fullest, and were a representation of how young people should truly live their lives.”
Brashears, Lekhno and Jauberty were part of BU’s study abroad program in the country. A fourth student, Margaret Theriault, was seriously hurt in the crash, which happened on Saturday May 12 New Zealand time. She is in critical-but-stable condition at Waikato Hospital in New Zealand, according to a hospital spokeswoman.
The student who was driving the van, Stephen Houseman, 20, of Massapequa, N.Y., has been charged in Auckland with three counts of careless driving causing death and four counts of careless driving causing injury.
Houseman, his arm in a sling, spoke at the service, said Reverend Uesifili Unasa, Maclaurin Chaplain to the University of Auckland, who officiated the service.
“He spoke movingly of his admiration for Austin,” to whom he was particularly close, Unasa said. “One of the things that he said about Austin was that Austin inspired him, and no matter how big something was, that Austin challenged him to get out of his comfort zone.”
During the service, which Unasa said lasted for about two hours, students stood in a semicircle behind mourners as they shared their memories, hugging and comforting them.
“None of us wanted to stand alone in the church behind the podium,” said Williams.
Williams said he spoke in memory of Jauberty, who he said was his best friend in the program.
“He was and is and always will be a bright light and a true inspiration to every single student my age,” said Williams.
Brashears’ father, Thomas, also spoke at the service, Unasa said.
“He was very proud as a father to hear new things, as well as the great things that Austin meant to students,” said Unasa. No other victims’ family members spoke, said Unasa.
As the service ended, a single guitar player began singing “Free Fallin’,” but he was soon joined by every voice in the chapel, Unasa said.
“We couldn’t help ourselves,” he said. “It was people singing because they want to sing.”
BU students are still reeling from the deaths, said Williams, but the service was about celebrating their friends’ lives and moving forward.
The University has said it will allow students the option of returning to the states before the end of the program, according to a university spokesman, who said that more than 40 BU students are still in New Zealand. Several students have indicated that they wish to leave, he said, but declined to say who or how many.
Williams said that as of right now, he plans to stay, and said that many of the students with whom he had spoken were also planning to stay.
“People are still figuring it out. The trauma of the week is just starting to become a reality,” he said. “The sense of community here and the sense of family—it’s truly becoming a family. Unfortunately, and fortunately, we’ll share this experience for the rest of our lives.”