Michigan teen killed in Times Square a ‘wonderful young lady’ – USA TODAY
After a car slammed into pedestrians in New York City, food delivery worker Julio Sanchez Rivera captured the immediate chaos that followed. This video may contain graphic content, viewer discretion is advised.
DETROIT — Staff and students at Portage Central High School in Portage, Mich., mourned the loss of a 2016 graduate who died Thursday when a vehicle careened into a crowd in New York City’s Times Square, killing the young woman and injuring her sister and 21 others.
Alyssa Elsman, 18, was a kind, compassionate student known around the school for selling delicious muffins she baked in a cooking class, principal Eric Alburtus said.
“We’re all kind of a mess,” he said late Thursday afternoon as the community south of Kalamazoo absorbed the shocking news.
A man who appeared to be intoxicated steered his car onto a sidewalk in Times Square around midday, killing Elsman and injuring 22 others including Alyssa’s 13-year-old sister Ava. Ava attends Portage Central Middle School.
The driver, 26-year-old Richard Rojas, was tackled by pedestrians and taken into custody.
Alburtus was in a meeting when a news alert popped up on his phone about the crash. Later, around 2 p.m., he received calls from friends of the Elsman family who told him Alyssa had died.
“Alyssa was wonderful young lady,” he said. “When you first got to know her, you would perceive that she was shy or quiet. The more you got to know her, the more you would realize she was funny, and thoughtful, and compassionate to other people.”
Alburtus met with teachers Thursday afternoon to tell them the news. The school plans to bring in grief counselors Friday for students.
“Our deepest sympathies go out to the Elsman family,” Portage Public Schools Superintendent Mark Bielang said in a statement. “It is the most devastating kind of sad when a wonderful person in our community is lost so young, and under such heartbreaking circumstances.”
People from as far away as Belgium and Guatemala flooded Elsman’s Facebook page with messages of condolence. The page says she worked as a carhop at a Sonic restaurant.
Portage resident Olivia Lemke, 18, said her family moved next door to the Elsmans on Calico Avenue in Portage about a decade ago.
She said the Elsmans, who no longer live next door, took an annual trip to New York City, and she guesses that’s why the sisters were in Times Square.
Lemke recalled meeting Elsman on the playground of nearby Lake Center Elementary School. They became fast friends, lasting through when both graduated from Portage Central last year.
“They were together a lot,” Olivia’s mother, Kristen Lemke, said. “If one wasn’t (at one house), the other was (at the other house). They spent a lot of time together.”
Olivia Lemke described Elsman as a “wallflower.” She said Elsman had a tight-knit friend group of about four people along with many friendly acquaintances.
“She was a good person and a family person,” Kristen Lemke said. “She took care of her brother and sister a lot and she was always there.”
“I went to her for everything — literally,” Olivia Lemke added. “She was honest.”
Contributing: The Associated Press. Follow Ann Zaniewski and Dillon Davis on Twitter: @AnnZaniewski and @DillonDavis