Three Boston U. students killed, 5 injured in New Zealand crash

Boston University students, including Tori Pinheiro, third from right, hold a candlelight vigil on Marsh Plaza at Boston University, Saturday. Pinheiro's boyfriend, Austin Brashears, was one of five students killed in a minivan accident in New Zealand. (AP Photo/Bizuayehu Tesfaye)
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Richard, of New Orleans, said the tragedy will not stop her from going abroad to study later in her college career.

"It's just like tragedies happen, and I don't want that to stop me from a good learning experience," she said.

Jordan Nunez, 22, a senior who is graduating next week, said the study abroad program is very popular among Boston University students. He estimates 25 percent to 30 percent of his friends traveled to foreign countries to study.

Still, the New Zealand accident has darkened the mood on campus, he said.

"You think everything's always taken care for you, but things can happen wherever you are in the world," he said. "It's just something that's sad for our community."

Study abroad program executive director Bernd Widdig called the students' deaths an "unprecedented tragedy," the worst to hit the program since it began in the 1980s. The New Zealand part of the program began in 2003 and involves courses at the University of Auckland and Auckland University of Technology.

About 250 students, faculty members and well-wishers gathered in Boston on Saturday evening for a candlelight vigil for the victims.

Brashears' girlfriend, junior Tori Pinheiro, cried at the vigil as she recalled how friendly he was and how much she loved him. She said he recently had left her a voicemail saying he missed her and she has been playing it repeatedly.

University President Robert Brown called the students' deaths "a horrible tragedy" and said in an online statement his "prayers go out to the students and their families."

All the students except Theriault were enrolled in a BU study abroad program in Auckland, the BU website said. Theriault was enrolled in a study abroad program in Sydney, Australia.

Sixteen students were traveling in two minivans, on their way to hike the Tongariro Crossing, a famous trek rated as one of the most spectacular in New Zealand. The hike crosses a volcanic crater in the central part of North Island.

None of the eight students in the second van was injured. Seven of those eight students were also from Boston University.

Police official Kevin Taylor said it was unclear why the van drifted to the side of the road. He said some of the students were thrown from the vehicle, indicating they may not have been wearing seat belts.

Dean of Students Kenneth Elmore said it was a terrible end to the year at the school, where commencement is scheduled for May 20.

"This is an unusual time on our campus," Elmore said in a statement on the school website. "We have a lot of people who are traveling and some people who are celebrating the end of final exams. I'd like everyone to please take a moment to pay our respects to the families of those who have been killed."

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