Student, beloved sister, rescuer
Most of Nashville learned of Dalia Perez through headlines and TV-segment teasers: Overton High School student dies in house fire after rescuing sister. ... Just days after celebrating 15 years of life, a girl runs toward her death trying to save more of her family ... all survive, except the child hero. As a city, we sat collectively in shock. At dinner tables, breakfast counters and water coolers, strangers grieved. Co-workers caught each other's eyes, knowing instantly they had found the family to receive their office's holiday philanthropy. People called TV stations to ask what and where they could donate, to replace what could be replaced.
But it was in the aisle of a school bus, a hallway outside a classroom, or a sudden call from home that the Nashville where Dalia was known and loved first faced the thought of a world without her. Dalia's classmates, teenagers themselves, could not believe she was gone. Friends who had known her since elementary or middle school — who went to church with her and had gone over to her house, or maybe were closer to her siblings and cousins — confirmed the news the instant they saw each other in tears before the first ring of the school bell.
Dalia's friends had all been drawn to her by her smile, and even now, the thought of it provided a small comfort to them. They savored fresh memories of her recent quinceañera, Waffle House adventures, talking about boys, Reggaeton dance lessons with stuffed-animal audiences, and sleepovers. The little things — even the funny way she chewed her gum — became therapy.
Friends and family remember how much she fawned over children, especially her younger brothers and sisters at home. Dalia was their role model. And now, in a city that came to know her much too late, we all understand why.
Student, churchgoer, friend
On the night of Feb. 17, 2010, as her family returned home from Ash Wednesday services on Highway 100, a deer hit the windshield of the car where Emmie Webb, 8, was riding in the backseat between her brother and sister. When her friend Walden Ferrell, 9, learned of her death that night, she wrote the following list:
Walden's Favorite Things About Emmie:
1. She never liked taking pictures.
2. She loved to draw animals.
3. She loved Little House on the Prairie books.
4. She was a climber.
5. She loved animals.
6. Her favorite color was green.
7. She loved zebras.
8. She's been my best friend since we were 3.
9. She always smiled.
10. She loved banana Popsicles.
11. She was athletic.
12. She loved adventure.
13. She loved camping.
14. She was strong-hearted.
15. I loved her laugh.
16. She hated not having anything to do.
17. She had wonderful expressions.
18. She loved to swim.
19. She loved everybody.
20. She loved smiley faces.
Lost Boy of Sudan, MBA custodian
It was a cruel irony that a man who survived the world's deadliest civil war, a Sudanese refugee who escaped through southern Sudan's killing fields while his country burned, would meet his end in Nashville — the victim of an apparent robbery. Malith Wiek, 33, was found shot to death April 21, his body discovered by a Metro bus driver. Gai Kuot, Wiek's roommate and a Sudanese immigrant himself, has been indicted on a first-degree murder charge.
Wiek had been a custodian at Montgomery Bell Academy for six years after immigrating to the United States and Nashville in 2000. He was a fixture around the campus and knew nearly every student by name. Hardships didn't faze him. A City Paper account cites a campus legend that he ran 60 miles a day in his homeland, and even in this pedestrian-averse city, he could be seen sprinting on errands.
"He would laugh with the students a lot," MBA Headmaster Bradford Gioia said. "[The students] not only trusted him, they liked him."
Wiek, reportedly part of the earliest wave of Sudanese "Lost Boys" to resettle in Nashville, was saving his money to visit his family in Sudan in the fall. He hadn't seen them since leaving Africa a decade before. Sadly, as Nashville's Sudanese immigrants prepare to cast their ballots in coming weeks for South Sudan's independence — a move hoped to bring stability to the war-torn region — one vote will be conspicuously absent.
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