They were supposed to be the first — the first in their families to tour a college, to have a choice, to one day see their names in fancy letters on diplomas. One wanted to be a movie director, another a kinesiologist. Three of the adults already had careers. They boarded the bus eager to give back. Families and friends on Friday mourned the loss of five students, three chaperons and two drivers. These are some of their stories.
Marisa and Marisol Serrato were born five minutes apart. The sisters were identical — inseparable too.
"They ate together, played the guitar, did their homework together," said their mother, Marisa Serrato. "They slept hugging each other."
She spoke in broken whispers while on the road north from her Riverside home to find out if Marisa was among the dead in Thursday night's fiery bus crash.
The family of the twins, who have five other siblings, have been on a desperate hunt for information about Marisa ever since the accident. They knew Marisol was safe.
The two sisters had big plans for the future: They would attend Humboldt State University in the fall, major in film and, one day, make movies together.
"They were so focused, always studying, always listening to Christian music," Serrato said.
In a family of nine, the twins had built a world of their own. They enjoyed going to church and teaming up in the kitchen to create vegetarian recipes, often with tofu. Marisol would tease Marisa and call herself the big sister.
"I'll always take care of you," she'd tell Marisa, Serrato said.
On Thursday, the 17-year-olds from Norte Vista High School had tried to sit together for the ride to Arcata. But after Marisol sat down, Marisa was told the bus was full, her mother said. She was moved to another bus.
Serrato said Marisol was devastated by the lack of news about her twin. She and her husband prayed for a miracle as they drove up Interstate 5.
"It's all I can do," she said. "Otherwise, by mind is blank."
Arthur Arzola could deliver a speech at the drop of a hat. His message was always the same:
Go to college. Go to college. Go to college.
The 26-year-old, who lived in Rancho Cucamonga, was among those killed Thursday. He was a recruiter for Humboldt State. His passion was helping underprivileged students.
Arzola was set to graduate next month with a master's degree from the University of LaVerne. Family called him Little Turi, the oldest boy of Arthur Arzola Sr., known as Big Turi.
"He was my mijo, my little boy," Arzola Sr. said, fighting back tears.
The kid from Bassett, Calif., was always looking to move up — to help those left behind, relatives said.
In high school, he was a straight-A student and peer counselor, active in student government. He pushed students, particularly his five younger siblings, to study hard. Two had already made it to college.
"I always told him, 'Be a good person,'" Arzola Sr. said. "And that's just what he became, a very good person."
He was a jokester, too. He'd break into dance steps at the sound of a Tejano corrido, like the ones he grew up listening to with his father.
"We will remember him always as the big smile who'd come through the door," said his stepmother, Stephanie Arzola.
The graduate of Cal State San Bernardino began working for Humboldt eight months ago. He enjoyed the job, but had recently applied for a position at USC, hoping to be closer to Krystal, his wife of two years.
"He told me, 'Dad, I really hope I get this so I don't have to travel so much,'" Arzola Sr. said. "After graduation, he said he was excited about starting his own family."
Michael Myvett was not a rich man, but when it came to proposing to his girlfriend, he wanted to go big. Paris big.
He saved up for two years, flew her to France and outside the Louvre on a cold Christmas day, he got down on one knee.
Mattison Haywood, his college sweetheart, said yes.
Myvett's grandmother, Debra Loyd, told their love story with a mix of awe and sorrow Friday. Hours before, she had gotten a call from officials notifying her that Myvett and Haywood had been killed in the tragic bus crash. They were serving as adult chaperones for a student tour of their alma mater, Humboldt State University.
"He was a fantastic human being," said Loyd, who raised Myvett in South Los Angeles. "And the love those two had for each other is one you haven't seen in generations. They were like the Kennedys, like the Obamas."
They shared a home near Santa Monica, she said. Their favorite word was, "Baaabe!"
"They would yell it out over and over again, like it was their own language," Loyd said. "I would tell them, 'What … is going with you two?"
Of Haywood, Loyd said: "She was wonderful." The couple had met at Humboldt State.
"I've talked to her family," Loyd said Friday. "They're not doing well at all."
Myvett, 29, had a degree in psychology. He worked with disadvantaged youth at the Center for Autism and Related Disorders in Torrance. His boss, Kyle Farris, said Myvett was able to connect with kids on a level few others could.
"We are deeply saddened by the loss of our friend and co-worker," Farris said.
Myvett's Facebook page shows a life lived out loud: Proud Michael holding his diploma on graduation day. Playful Michael flaunting red sunglasses at Comic Con. Happy Michael with Haywood's red lips pressed lovingly against his cheek.
They had recently put down a deposit on a wedding location. Front and center that day would have been his two younger brothers: Bill, 17, and Rothell, 11.
The three were very close, and Myvett spoke to them like grown men, Loyd said. He would make them read and write and spend time with their grandmother.
He would tell them: "Make a stand for each other, you hear me? Don't let the street be the stand."
Adrian Castro sometimes liked to call his mom by her first name — just to see her get wound up.
"He'd just smile at me and say, 'I'm just playing,'" Veronica Soriano said.
At 19, her college-bound boy was mischievous, stubborn and smart.
The El Monte Union High School senior was presumed dead Friday after a FedEx truck collided with the bus he was riding in.
Word of the crash spread quickly at El Monte. Coaches huddled the football team in a room after the news about their former teammate broke. Students hung a banner with the words: "RIP OUR FELLOW LION." They wrote farewell messages to their friend.
"Everybody was heartbroken and just sort of came to each other … and started crying," senior Joseph Lopez said.
Adrian — at 5 feet, 5 inches tall — had been the football team's cornerback. He had many friends. They would go to parties and the beach.
On Thursday, he nearly skipped the Humboldt tour because he didn't want to miss a party over the weekend, said his friend Angel Gonzalez. In the end, Adrian went anyway.
"He wanted to go see how it is," Gonzalez said. "He's just adventurous, wanted to have a good time."
Adrian told friends he planned to study kinesiology and become an athletic trainer. The last time Soriano spoke to her son, he talked about his plans.
On Friday, she drove north in search of any information about her son. One police officer, she said, told her there was only a 10% chance he may be alive.
Jennifer Bonilla, a senior at Dorsey High School, was among those unaccounted for Friday night.
Even so, one of her former teachers had not given up.
"We're still hopeful this won't be a tragic story," said Sherlett Hendy Newbill, who had taught Jennifer in physical education class in ninth grade.
The girl was a favorite among staff and administrators. She was the kind of learner, they said, who is easy to inspire.
"She's one of those students who is bright and shiny and eager and ready to go," Hendy Newbill said.
Jennifer had recently won a college scholarship.
Ismael Jimenez and Denise Gomez, students at Animo Inglewood Charter High School, also were among those whose fates were unknown Friday night.
Ismael's parents traveled to the site of the crash seeking information, said Marco Petruzzi, chief executive of Green Dot Public Schools.
"It's been a brutal day for us," Petruzzi said.
Times staff writers Howard Blume, Angel Jennings and Christine Mai-Duc contributed to this report.