RICHMOND, VA (WWBT) - It was an emotional gathering in honor of a first-year college student who died in a tragic car crash Sunday.
Students at Virginia State University paused for a moment of silence Wednesday evening, just three days after 18-year-old Destanee Lyles was killed. Lyles was a passenger along with two other VSU students when another car rear-ended theirs.
It’s Homecoming Week at VSU, a time of excitement and pride - but this year it’s bittersweet because a student who wanted to be there isn’t there to celebrate.
Students gathered for prayer and reflection in a moment that doesn't seem real.
"We thought it was a joke,” Freshman Tamia Smith said.
Until the death of Lyles was confirmed.
“We all met up in one room and we all had that talk like ‘it’s serious,’” Smith said.
Lyles was leaving her hometown of Waldorf, Maryland in a car with her father and two other VSU students returning to campus in time for Homecoming Week. After they pulled onto the roadway, a driver rear-ended them in a horrific crash. Lyles and several others were taken to the hospital. All of them survived but her.
"It was like wow. We were all coming together. We prayed together. It was a moment nobody was prepared for at all,” Smith said.
She met Lyles when they were both high school students in Maryland.
"She was honest. She was comedic. There was never a dull moment with her. She was always full of energy and life, and it just made you gravitate towards her,” Smith said.
The news hit the campus community so hard, the university’s President Makola Abdullah took to Twitter asking the VSU family to pray. He says he’s since been in touch with the the Lyles’ family.
“As you can imagine in this difficult time, the family is having challenges. They’re doing what they can to overcome the very difficult loss of a child. Her mother told us she loved VSU and we made sure that we told her we love her too,” Abdullah said.
A love exhibited in force, as VSU students paused during Homecoming in honor one of their own.
"She was a beautiful person inside and out…I feel we should enjoy Homecoming in her name…We should do it for her. Everything is for Destanee," Smith added.
One of the students who survived the crash attended Wednesday’s vigil.
Lyles will be laid to rest Monday in Maryland. She was a business major who enjoyed modeling.
The Student Government Association said she will be remembered for her “beautiful and vibrant life.”