It was a gift Alexa Duran kept close to the chest.
Only those closest to her knew about her secret, and when no one was watching, the 18-year-old would showcase it.
“She had the voice of an angel,” said one of her closest friends, Sofia Rincon, her voice trembling as she recounted her friend’s beautiful singing abilities. “The most humbling thing about it is that she didn’t tell anybody. She kept it super low key.”
Rincon and her friend, Michaela Reyes, nervously took the stage at a vigil Wednesday at Florida International University to honor the six people, including Duran, an FIU freshman, killed last Thursday in the FIU bridge collapse. The other five people who died were Navaro Brown, 37, who was working on the bridge; Brandon Brownfield, a father of three, who was a tower crane technician; Rolando Fraga Hernandez, 60, a systems technician; Osvaldo González, 57, who owned a party rental business; and Alberto Arias, 53, who studied at the University of Havana and was a business and life partner of González’s.
The duo honored Duran with the song “Stay” by Rihanna.
After the 30-minute ceremony, thousands of students, faculty and friends and family members of the victims marched to a memorial site on Southwest Eighth Street and 107th Avenue with ivory daisies in hand. The pedestrian bridge, under construction, spanned Southwest Eighth Street at 109th Avenue.
As video of Duran at a karaoke cruise night projected on TV screens, Rincon told mourners that she and Alexa, along with three other girlfriends, had recently taken a cruise to celebrate high school graduation.
“Our three friends were going away for college, and me and Alexa were the ones staying [in Miami],” she said. “We decided to sing the song ‘Stay,’ kind of telling them to stay with us.”
She paused and gulped for air, tears streaming down her cheeks.
“Now I want to sing this for Alexa because she’s always gonna stay in my heart.”
After the tribute, FIU president Mark Rosenberg embraced Duran’s parents at a makeshift memorial site as flowers piled up beside them. Rosenberg clenched their hands as a chaplain guided them through a brief prayer.
“Now is the time to grieve together, to heal together,” Rosenberg said. “Let our sadness galvanize us to stay the course on goodness.”
With tissues in hand, thousands marched through the campus, the university marching band accompanying the mourners. As the crowd made their way through university sidewalks, onlookers bowed their heads, some removed their hats.
“Just a week and a half earlier, we were just across the street celebrating the placement of a bridge that was supposed to bridge the City of Sweetwater and the university and help save lives,” said Sweetwater Mayor Orlando Lopez. “Less than a week later, this bridge that was intended to save lives, took the lives of six souls and injured many more.”
Wednesday’s vigil is one of several ceremonies being held. There will be a prayer service at 1:47 p.m. Thursday, the exact time the bridge collapsed last Thursday. The service will be one block from the bridge site on Southwest Eighth Street and 109th Avenue.
At 7 p.m. Thursday, Sweetwater will hold a telephone town hall meeting where officials will discuss traffic flow since Southwest Eighth Street from 107th to 117th avenues is closed indefinitely following the bridge collapse. You can register to participate here.