Near the end of her first college spring break, 18-year-old Alexa Duran was spending the afternoon of March 15 helping a friend.
The Florida International University freshman gave sophomore Richard Humble a ride to a doctor’s appointment in her father’s gray Toyota 4Runner. She had plans later to head to her family’s dry cleaning business, D’Dago, in Hialeah, her friend, Amanda Aponte, said.
At about 1:47 p.m., Duran and Humble were in the second lane from the right on Southwest Eighth Street at 109 Avenue heading east and passing under the newly erected pedestrian bridge that connected FIU to the city of Sweetwater.
Humble heard the bridge creak, looked up, and saw it fall at an angle on top of the car. The roof of the Toyota caved in partly on Humble’s side but more on the driver’s side. Witnesses who rushed on the scene were able to pull Humble out, but Duran was trapped.
“I screamed her name over and over again and I didn’t hear anything,” Humble told told NBC News.
On Friday afternoon, Duran’s father, Orlando Duran, confirmed to El Nuevo Herald that his daughter was one of six victims of the bridge collapse.
“My little girl was trapped in the car and couldn’t get out. She died when the bridge collapsed on top of her car,” Duran said in Spanish, speaking to el Nuevo Herald from London, where he was traveling when he got the news.
“This is going to be the longest and saddest trip of my life. I don’t want to return,” he said as he waited for his flight home.
Orlando Duran, the rest of Alexa Duran’s family, and her friends and sorority sisters from Alpha Xi Delta honored the teen at a vigil held by the school on Wednesday. They spoke of a girl who was known for her humor and joy.
“Any person that you asked said before she was the funniest person you’d ever meet,” said friend Michaela Reyes, a freshman at the University of Central Florida who went to high school with Duran. “She was a goofball.”
Duran, who was a political science major at FIU, attended Archbishop Edward A. McCarthy High School in Southwest Ranches and Country Club Middle School, according to her Facebook profile. As early as elementary school, at Joella C. Good Elementary in Hialeah, she was a stand-out student, said her fourth-grade teacher, Jacqueline Cobb.
“Teachers are not technically supposed to have favorite students, at least not announce their favorites,” Cobb said. “During my entire career, she is one of my all-time favorites.”
Duran was part of the school’s 2009 award-winning team at the Southeastern Consortium for Minorities in Engineering competition in Miami-Dade County, Cobb said. The team earned first place in seven out of eight categories, including building a bottle rocket and developing a mouse trap.
“Alexa was at the top of the class,” she said. “I am beyond heartbroken.”
At the FIU vigil Wednesday, Duran’s fellow sorority sisters wore Alpha Xi Delta’s letters on navy and gold T-shirts in remembrance of her. Some of them initially had gone to look for information about her at an FIU family reunification center on the day of the bridge collapse.
FIU students Manny Perez and girlfriend Lynnet Gomez, who was in Duran’s sorority pledge class, were among those who had been frantically looking for Duran the day of the collapse. They had tried calling multiple hospitals but discovered she wasn’t listed as a patient at any of them.
Perez, a junior at FIU, said Duran was “one of those people who lights up any room, any circumstance, situation. She always makes her presence known.”
At the vigil, Duran’s friends from high school, Reyes and Sofia Rincon, paid tribute to their friend by revealing a little known fact about her: Duran was a good singer.
The girls, along with Aponte and another friend, had gone on a Royal Caribbean four-day cruise in June 2017 after they graduated high school, where Duran showcased her singing skills. She and Rincon, the only two in the group who had decided to stay in Miami for school, got up during a karaoke night and sang Rihanna’s “Stay” for their three friends who were going away for college.
“She wouldn’t tell anybody that she could sing or anything,” Rincon told the crowd at the vigil. Then she sang “Stay,” with Reyes playing the piano.
“I want to sing this song for Alexa because she is always going to stay in my heart,” Rincon said.
On a screen behind her, a video played of Duran and Rincon singing together on the cruise.