FIU holds vigil for pedestrian bridge collapse victims

18-year-old student Alexa Duran among those killed by falling structure

By Peter Burke - Local10.com Managing Editor, Amanda Batchelor - Senior Digital Editor, Erica Rakow - Reporter, Todd Tongen - Anchor/Reporter

SWEETWATER, Fla. - A student-led vigil was held at Florida International University to remember the victims of last week's pedestrian bridge collapse.

FIU's Student Government Association planned Wednesday morning's vigil as a way to honor the six people who lost their lives after the pedestrian bridge connecting the campus to the city of Sweetwater crumbled onto Southwest Eighth Street.

The victims were identified as Alberto Arias, 53, Navaro Brown, 37, Brandon Brownfield, 39, Alexa Duran, 18, Rolando Fraga, 60, and Oswaldo Gonzalez, 57.

Duran was a student at FIU. She was driving under the bridge when it came crashing down, trapping her in her SUV. Relatives attended the vigil, as well as members of Duran's sorority, Alpha Xi Delta. 

Dr. Larry Lunsford, vice president of Student Affairs, spoke first at the vigil followed by a Miami-Dade police chaplain who asked people to join hands as he recited a prayer for the victims.

Sweetwater Mayor Orlando Lopez called for people to remain strong through their grief and reminded people that the support for those affected by the tragedy is not just in the community, but people are supporting them nationwide.

He then read a letter sent to his office by a woman from Ohio who wrote, "May God guide us and help you through this difficult and horrible ordeal. I am sending thoughts and prayers and hugs to all."

FIU President Mark B. Rosenberg told students, faculty and others who attended the vigil that now is the time to "grieve together, to heal together."

"There is much uncertainty, but there are a few things that are for certain," he said. "This is a strong community, this is a caring community -- a community that will comfort one another through this. This is a community that rises time and again, and the other certainty is that we are going to carry the memory of the victims. We will carry that memory forever." 

Two of Duran's friends sang a song that Duran had sung karaoke to while on a cruise together after graduating high school. Video of Duran on that night played on a screen as the friends performed the song.

The FIU Concert Choir also sang "Amazing Grace."   

Documents obtained by The Associated Press show the Florida Department of Transportation in October 2016 ordered FIU and its contractors to move the  bridge's main pylon 11 feet north to the edge of a canal, widening the gap between the crossing's supports and requiring new structural design. Because of the key design change, the project was behind schedule and millions of dollars over budget.

Gov. Rick Scott directed the FDOT earlier this week to withhold all federal funding for the FIU bridge project until an investigation by the National Transportation Safety Board is complete.

After the vigil, participants walked to a makeshift memorial site near Southwest Eighth Street and Southwest 107th Avenue to lay flowers and other items.

A brass band led the walk, playing a New Orleans-style funeral dirge as mourners were each given a long-stemmed daisy to take to the memorial site.

They walked silently, holding hands and hugging each other for strength. Hundreds of people made the grieving trek to the memorial site.

"I am sorry she never knew how much she meant to me," Duran's friend, Sophia Rincon, said. 

People laid flowers beneath a large billboard that read, "Together the healing begins."

Clergy was on hand to say prayers and support the friends and families of the six victims that gathered just a block away from the site of the tragedy.

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