They were dancing and singing, five friends laughing together as they piled back into the car. They’d taken a quick study break to pray, and it was time to head back to the University of Georgia campus.
Christina, Kayla, Brittany, Halle and Agnes.
Five young women with bigger-than-life dreams — after final exams. Instead, the five never made it back to campus. One year ago today, on a two-lane country road, a crash claimed four lives and left the fifth friend fighting to survive. The crash devastated five families and the entire UGA community. But through the overwhelming sadness, the students’ legacies continue to impact other lives. Their families are forever bonded.
“When I look back after a year, I choose to focus on what this event has created in a positive aspect, which is people coming together,” Leigh Ann Williams told The Atlanta Journal-Constitution. “I feel like we are all now deeply intertwined. It’s created a greater good and a greater being than anyone could ever expect.”
Williams lost her cousin, Halle Grace Scott, in the crash. Scott, 19, with her unforgettable smile, was a Dunwoody High School graduate and a member of the Tri Delta sorority at UGA.
“She had just an unbelievable sweetness,” Williams said. “There was no denying that this young woman was destined for some greatness.”
Her friends were, too.
There was Kayla Leigh Canedo, 20, who grew up in Alpharetta, was a psychology major and the vice president of chapter relations and standards for her Alpha Chi Omega sorority. She spent her summers working at the YMCA Camp High Harbour at Lake Allatoona, and if you saw Kayla, you often saw her with her best friend.
Brittany Katherine Feldman, also 20, met Kayla in preschool, and the two were nearly inseparable. The two attended Milton High School together before heading to UGA, where they were roommates their freshmen year. Feldman had pledged to the Pi Beta Phi sorority. That summer, she was going with Kayla to camp, where they both would work as program directors after being promoted from head counselors.
“Two peas in pod,” according to their camp director. That was Brittany and Kayla. Summer camp continued without the best friends, but both were still a part of the activities.
“At camp, our number one goal was to preserve their legacy and to make sure that their story and their passion is spread to everyone that comes through the camp gates from now until eternity,” Drew Hullinger, executive director for Camp High Harbour, said Wednesday.
Christina Devon Semeria, 19, had also grown up with Brittany and Kayla, first meeting in preschool before graduating from Milton and also heading to UGA. Nicknamed “Tini” because her older brother had been unable to say her name as a toddler, she had a musical gift she used to share her faith with others. And Christina had a sweet spot for animals and anyone who felt out of place.
“Really her heartbeat was for those that didn’t belong, and those that felt like they were outcast,” her mother, Cathy Semeria, told The AJC this week.
She wrote songs and played the guitar, and her song “Be Still” was played at her funeral, her voice strong over the music she strummed.
“So be still, my child. And know that I am God,” she sings. The song, which she posted online, can be downloaded and purchased online.
“That song is changing people’s lives,” Cathy Semeria said. “Those words were straight from God to her.”
And lastly, there was Agnes Kim, the oldest of the five. She’d been the resident assistant for her younger friends for their first year at UGA. Agnes was days from graduating the night she asked the others to drive to an Oconee County spot to pray. She was driving on Ga. 15 when her car crossed the center line and hit a car traveling the opposite direction.
Agnes survived, but was comatose for weeks, and from an Athens hospital, she was moved to the Shepherd Center in Atlanta. Her family has not spoken publicly about her recovery, but friends have said she continues to improve. An online fundraising page to help the Kim family has topped $70,000.
The five friends, all unique with their own talents and dreams, brought their families together and countless others. A year later, there are countless physical reminders of that impact, including scholarship funds, benches at parks on the UGA campus, and even a fire pit next to the waters of Lake Allatoona. Thursday, the families of the four who died will gather for a memorial service at the UGA chapel.
But beyond the physical markers, the families have witnessed an outpouring of love and support they couldn’t have imagined, Semeria said.
“We’ll never have the answers to this, we won’t,” she said. “What I’ve witnesses this past year, I can’t even put it into words.”
Semeria didn’t know the other families well until the crash. Now, she can’t imagine life without them. The mothers get together at least once a month, she said.
“One of the biggest blessings is that we have each other,” she said. “I’m so grateful to have those moms in my life.”
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