Students and staff at Chandler's Traditional Academy Liberty campus grieved and reeled from the death of a 6-year-old kindergarten student whose teacher described him as a "friend magnet."
Everyone in his close-knit class was drawn to Ahmed Abdirahman because of his laugh and smile, said Tanae Morrison, a counselor at the school, 550 N. Emmett St.
Ahmed died at the scene of an accident after a minivan his mother was driving westbound on the Loop 202 rolled over about 6:30 p.m. Wednesday after apparently trying to exit onto Dobson Road, according to Department of Public Safety officials. The van suddenly veered back onto the freeway, crossed into the median, then rolled back into traffic, where it collided with another minivan.
"They feel the loss and miss his presence," Morrison said. "Everyone was drawn to him. He loved to learn."
Two people were ejected when the family's minivan rolled, DPS said. In all, five people, including three of Ahmed's siblings and mother, were injured in the crash that closed the highway for hours late Wednesday.
Ahmed's sister, Faduma, 8, a second-grader at the school, was treated for a broken leg at a nearby hospital and released. His mother, Amina Farah, who also was injured, was treated and released from a nearby hospital.
Ahmed's two other siblings, 9-month-old Mohammed, and sister, Faiza, 4, remain hospitalized, according to a woman who identified herself as Farah's sister over the phone. Their condition was not available.
Ahmed's father, Abdulkadir Dawi, was not traveling in the van.
There were no reports of injuries in the second van.
At the school, Ahmed was in an accelerated reader program and also participated in a running club.
"It was pretty impressive for a kindergartner to be reading books that the teacher read to the class," Morrison said. "He also was involved in a phonics-based reading program and did so well, he became the teacher of the class."
In that program, Ahmed would get to hold up cards in front of the class and students would sound out the letters of the alphabet, Morrison said.
The school's staff and administrators on Thursday quickly put an emergency plan into action, sending out letters to parents of the 6-year-old school's approximate 700 students.
A statement read by teachers in each classroom said:
"Boys and girls, I have some very sad news that I must share with you. One of our fellow students, Ahmed Abdirahman, who was a kindergarten student, was in a car accident last night and died. His second-grade sister, Faduma, has a broken leg and is recovering at home. We are all very sad to lose Ahmed."
Counselors and psychologists also were on hand at the school, providing outlets for the students to express their grief, either through talking or drawing pictures and making cards, Morrison said.
Staff at the school also was making personal phone calls to the parents of the students in Ahmed's class, Morrison said.
Service arrangements are pending.
Morrison said, "This has been hard for all of us to deal with."