Three students, all who came to Tucson as refugees, were killed in a vehicle crash last weekend, leaving their families and high school communities grieving the loss of three young and ambitious minds.
An SUV carrying eight people to a wedding in Phoenix was involved in the May 19 crash, killing two members of the Rincon High School community, including 2017 graduate Patrick Habineza, 22, and 17-year-old Fabrice Matabazi, who was just completing his junior year, according to Rincon officials.
Amphitheater High School freshman Azzizah Maharo, 18, was also killed in the crash.
The Dodge SUV they were riding in was westbound on Interstate 10 near Casa Grande when the vehicle ran off the right side of the road and rolled, said Kameron Lee, an Arizona Department of Public Safety spokesman.
Only two of the vehicle’s eight occupants were wearing seat belts, Lee said.
Three other passengers were injured in the crash, and the driver and front passenger, who were both wearing seat belts, were taken to a hospital for evaluation and later released, Lee said.
Habineza and Matabazi came to Tucson three years ago from Congo, but were born in a refugee camp in Rwanda, said Rincon’s student-success coordinator, Ndabibonye Desire.
Information about Maharo was not available.
Rincon teacher Stacia Reeves, who taught Habineza last year, described him as a hard worker who was quiet and shy, saying he had a “lovable, beautiful smile.”
Habineza’s sister graduated from Rincon on Thursday in a celebration that was “lovely to have” during a time of such tragedy, Reeves said.
There are younger children in Habineza’s and Matabazi’s families who will continue to go to school, which Reeves says is a big part of their lives and the healing process.
“What’s so challenging is that they’re at an age of transitioning from a teenage to an adult,” Reeves said. “Patrick was going on to different endeavors after he graduated from high school last year, which is such a huge accomplishment, since he’s first generation.”
“Fabrice’s mom was saying he was talking about whether he was going to go into the military or go onto school, and he had these choices,” Reeves said. “There was so much excitement for her to see her oldest boy going into that. They’re just so appreciative for these choices in life, from where they’d lived previously.”
Life can be difficult for refugees here, and the families are struggling to come up with the money for funeral services, Desire said.
Maharo’s sister also was injured in the crash, but has been released from the hospital. A third Amphi student, a ninth-grade girl, is still hospitalized in Phoenix and has undergone two surgeries to attempt to save her leg, Amphi Principal Jon Lansa said.
Amphi High School is accepting donations for Maharo’s family, which can be made by contacting AHS Club sponsor Katherine Engel at firstname.lastname@example.org. Checks can be made to AHS with “Azzizah Memorial Fund” written in the memo line.