The deaths of five teenagers in Gwinnett County and two Morehouse College students in separate car crashes on Labor Day brought shock and sadness throughout metro Atlanta on Tuesday.
Psychologists, counselors and others were at Lakeside High School in DeKalb County, where three of the victims in the Gwinnett crash attended classes. At Morehouse, a service was held Tuesday to remember Hugh Douglas and Christion Files Jr.
Altogether, the holiday weekend claimed 21 lives on Georgia roads.
In Gwinnett, investigators did not release details Tuesday about what may have led to the crash that killed five.
Shortly before 4 a.m. Monday, 911 callers reported that a pickup truck had gone over the wall of the University Parkway westbound ramp on I-85, police said. The truck struck a passenger car before going over the wall. When the truck fell over the raised ramp onto the I-85 southbound ramp to Pleasant Hill Road, it hit a third car, according to police.
The five teenagers in the truck died at the scene. Three people with injuries were taken to the hospital. Their conditions were not released.
The wreck temporarily caused the closure of I-85 and both ramps.
Credit: Gwinnett County Police Department
Credit: Gwinnett County Police Department
Those killed in the crash were identified as Katie Gaitan Miranda, 17, Ashley Gaitan, 16, and Coral Lorenzo-Rosario, 17, all from Atlanta; Hung Nguyen, 18, from Lawrenceville, and Abner Santana, 19, of Suwanee.
DeKalb County School District Superintendent Devon Horton said in a letter Tuesday to the community that staff will be available at Lakeside to provide support and counseling “this week and beyond.”
“In our unity, we will find the strength to heal and support each other through this unimaginable loss,” Horton said.
GoFundMe accounts to cover funeral expenses were created for each teenager.
“(W)e lost two beautiful souls who were inseparable from each other,” Valeria Alvarez Ramos wrote about Ashley and Katie.
A similar outpouring of grief also took place on social media for Douglas and Files, who would have been celebrating their graduations in the spring of 2025.
According to the Georgia State Patrol, the two Morehouse students were traveling fast, going south on Church Street in East Point. After passing another car in a curve, their vehicle left the roadway, hit two power poles and overturned near the intersection with Linwood Avenue. Both died at the scene.
Douglas and Files were both studying business administration at Morehouse. Douglas interned at a company this summer in Los Angeles. Files, who was interested in photography and videography, created content for the college. The two students were roommates during their sophomore year, the college said.
Though Files, 20, had moved off campus, the pair seemed inseparable.
“When I did see them, they were always together. It kind of seemed as if they were a pair,” said Mekhi Perrin, 20, the Morehouse student government association president.
Perrin said at least 20 students spoke at an impromptu memorial at the campus chapel Tuesday, with several saying the two had influenced them to attend Morehouse.
Files was from New Haven, Ohio, on the outskirts of Cincinnati; Douglas was from Atlanta.
“They leave a legacy of excellence, passion, and dedication that will continue to inspire us all,” Kevin Booker, a Morehouse vice president, said in a written statement.
Douglas was the son of retired NFL star defensive lineman Hugh Douglas. Several former players offered their condolences on social media.
Douglas’ father posted in one message, “You were already a better man than me.”
Back at Lakeside, Joshua Law, a senior, said “you could feel a sad mood all day” while walking home from school.
Law said the students who died were part of his extended friend group. He found out shortly after the crash through social media where people were posting condolences.
Robert Booterbaugh first heard about the crash at school Tuesday morning.
“It was a big shock,” he said. “You never expect something like this to happen to your school.”
Law and Booterbaugh said their teachers didn’t shy away from the news — in every class, they talked about the tragedy. Teachers encouraged students to seek help if they needed it. Law said they were able to take breaks and visit the grief counselors in the library.
Both students said the crash made them reflect on how quickly life can change.
“It makes you think about life and how little time you may have,” Booterbaugh said. “Life turns on a dime.”