Leticia Carmo, 17, a junior at Sprayberry, died in a pileup in Florida early Sunday, along with her parents, Jose and Adriana Carmo, uncle Edson Carmo and his companion, Rose Fagundes. The wreck claimed 11 lives in a series of crashes on Interstate 75 outside Gainesville, Fla.
The only survivor in the passenger van was Leticia’s 15-year-old sister, Lidiane Carmo, a freshman at Sprayberry. She remains hospitalized at Shands at the University of Florida in Gainesville.
About 500 people, mostly students, attended Wednesday’s vigil.
Students packed into a plaza near the school’s parking lot, holding lit candles and sometimes embracing those who wept openly. A few of Leticia’s favorite songs, including “From the Inside Out” and “Only Hope,” were played. Some read poems in her memory. A group of her close friends played a song that they had spent eight hours recording the night before to commemorate her. Others shared their fond memories of her.
“I just want her to know that I miss her,” said one friend who met Leticia in the ninth grade. “I don’t think she’s gone. I just think she’s on vacation and we’ll see her soon.”
Sprayberry juniors Rachel Schmidt, Sabiola Oconitrillo and Gaby Hidalgo helped organize the event. The three were in Leticia’s cosmetology class.
“We are doing this because we feel like we need to come together as a school, not only to support each other, but to support the rest of the Carmo family and show Lidiane that we are here for her,” said Oconitrillo, who knew Leticia for three years.
“We were devastated of everything that happened,” she said. “We didn’t think that bad could happen to someone like her because she was just an amazing person. She has impacted so many people, and this is a good way to show that.”
Hidalgo said classmates have also sold candles, bracelets and T-shirts throughout the week.
“We are taking any kind of donations,” she said. “The whole school is coming together … sharing the memories we had of Leticia, and we are going to be praying for Lidiane.”
Aron Amazonas, a counselor and pastor at Igreja Internacional Da Restauracao in Marietta where Jose and Adriana Carmo were pastors, was the family’s neighbor in Kennesaw and has known them for six years.
“Sometimes I think I’m OK, and sometimes I look at this place and remember them and my heart hurts so much,” he said Wednesday before the vigil.
Amazonas said Lidiane is doing well but is still in recovery and unable to get out of bed.
“She got some wounds, but she is recovering well,” he said. “She learned (Tuesday) that her parents passed away.”
Amazonas said she remembered some, but not all, of the pile-up.
“She didn’t know what happened to her,” he said. “She wanted us to tell her what happened, and she keeps asking questions — sometimes the same questions, and that makes part of the process hard.”
Her uncle and aunt, whose names Amazonas did not want to release, are in Florida with the teenager. It could be another 10 to 15 days before she can come home.
“She wants to know where she’s going to live at, with whom she’s going to live and she wants to know if she can go to the same school,” he said. “She wants to go to the same school.”
The bodies of her parents, sister, uncle and Fagundes were all released Tuesday night but are still in Florida. Amazonas said that the funeral homes have told them it could take two more weeks to prepare them for a funeral service.
The Carmo’s church family, which he said is traumatized by the event, will hold a formal service for the deceased in about two weeks, after which they will send the bodies to Brazil, where they will be buried.
“It’s been very painful for their Brazilian family,” he said. “They are suffering too much because it’s taking so long to get their bodies.”
Amazonas said all but one of the nine other church members who were in a second van, also involved in the crash, have returned to Marietta. The last passenger remains hospitalized in Florida.
“They are very traumatized,” he said. “One lady described to me as if she were at the door of hell because it was so dark. She could see the smoke, it was foggy, people were screaming. She said she could smell blood and she heard the noises of cars hitting one another and heard that the pastor had passed away. She also saw the explosion and the fire. She said it was like being at war. It was so terrible.”
Despite the loss of their church members, Amazonas said church services would resume Sunday morning.
“We must move on,” he said. “The last sermon (Jose Carmo) preached about the importance of being ready because the Lord can call us anytime. Interesting and very strong because he preached it here, it was his last sermon and God called him.”
A bank account has been set up at Bank of America for Lidiane. The money will help pay for funeral costs or any additional medical attention the teenager will need when she returns to Marietta.
“The governor of Florida (Rick Scott) said he would pay all medical expenses. That’s what he said, but you never know,” Amazonas said. “He came to us and he gave his personal business card and cell phone and said to call if they needed anything and to not worry about the medical expenses.”
The bank account is listed under “Carmo Family Funeral Fund,” account number 334036157634.
Some church members said they were worried immigration authorities might deport Lidiane because she is not in the U.S. legally, the Atlanta Journal-Constitution reported. A U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement spokeswoman said she is not facing deportation.