Grief-stricken students return to campus

Students at two Irvine high school campuses returned to classes Wednesday, shaken by news that five classmates perished in a Memorial Day car wreck in Newport Beach.

Many students wore white out of respect for the dead.

Kevin Morales, 15, who was on his way to Irvine High School, lamented the loss of the two sisters, Aurora "Christine" Cabrera, 16, and Robin A. Cabrera, 17, who died in the crash. Christine sat near him in class.

"Christine was really nice and kind to other people," he said, "and Cecilia was the same way. They were always happy."

He learned of the crash through Instagram and Facebook.

Also killed about 5 p.m. Monday on Jamboree Road were Irvine High students Nozad Al Hamawendi, 17, and Cecilia D. Zamora, 17. Driver Abdulrahman M. Alyahyan, 17, attended University High School.

Irvine High students spent much of the day making posters, tributes to lives lost

Tara Jaff, 17, said when she recently moved from San Diego, Al Hamawendi was her only friend.

"It was horrible," she said. "Today was like the worst day of school."

She only went to one class but broke down crying, leaving to make a poster for Al Hamawendi with other classmates to present to the teen's family. The poster was red and black with smiley faces and this message: "We love you!"

Students wrote inside jokes on Al Hamawendi's poster, like how he called the girls "body guards."

"We were actually laughing, making it," Jaff said.

Fifteen-year-old Katherine Paredes helped craft a sign of "little notes we wanted to say to her but didn't get a chance" for Zamora.

"It was really depressing," Paredes said of the first day back at school since the crash.

In the morning, students left flowers, photos and trinkets on a concrete retaining wall. Girls in white tops and jeans cried and hugged one another.

Tina Zhu, 16, said teachers talked about the crash with students and a good part of the day was spent in quiet reflection.

"We didn't do a lot in class today because a lot of people were grieving," Zhu said.

Some boys stood, hands in pockets, heads bowed looking over the display. A few parents and staff members stood watch while news vans were parked across the street.

"They were amazing kids," student Clarissa Valencia said. "They had a big heart and always knew how to smile."

Over at University High School, the mood was similar.

"It kind of feels a little more somber," said student Benjamin Efron, 18. "It's a reminder you really need to stay on track."

Julia Knoell, 16, who attends University, said the campus seemed quieter.

"I can kind of feel a vibe around the school," Knoell said.

She walked with Kamilla Szavados, 16, toward the campus from the parking lot.

"It's so sad that would happen around here," Szavados said.

Efron said Monday's crash served as a reminder to slow down behind the wheel, even if you're late, because crashing isn't worth the price.

Police said a high rate of speed played a role in the crash, which took place on southbound Jamboree near Fashion Island. The victims were apparently headed to the beach, according to wire service reports.

Keith Tuominem, Irvine Unified's director of secondary education, said an announcement was made to students as school began.

A counseling center had also been set up.

"It's a tight community within the school and the district," Tuominem said, so "when something tragic happens to one" they all feel it.

— KTLA-5 contributed to this report.

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