By Alejandro Serrano, deputy news editor
Victoria McGrath, senior business major and survivor of the 2013 Boston Marathon Bombing from Weston, Conn., and Priscilla Perez Torres, senior biology major and passionate traveler from Guaynabo, Puerto Rico, died in a car accident in Dubai on March 7. Both students were 23.
At 12:40 a.m. on March 7, a yellow Ferrari 458 Spider crashed into a post in Al Sarayah Street in the Jumeirah Lake Tower’s region in Dubai, splitting in half; the four passengers, McGrath, Perez Torres, Canadian boxer Cody Nixon and Canadian citizen James Portuondo all died. Alcohol consumption and speeding are suspected to be involved in the accident, according to several news reports.
The two students were commemorated in a memorial hosted at The Fenway Center at 5 p.m., Wednesday, March 16. Hundreds of people gathered inside the building that was once a church, filled to the doorway, for a moment of silence as well as memories and reflections from the student’s family members, friends and Northeastern President Joseph E. Aoun.
“I was told by Victoria’s mother that Priscilla and Victoria used to send Bible verses to each other in times of distress and trouble,” Rev. Doug Wheeler, McGrath’s uncle, said on behalf of her family who could not attend the service. “If Victoria were to message us now, today, about the past that we face […] she might direct us to a scripture such as ‘Now is your time of grief; but I will see you again, and you will rejoice, and no one will take away your joy.’”
Veliz Perez Torres, Priscilla’s older sister, said her sister was her other half in a reflection Wednesday.
“My sister was a ray of sunshine in my life and in my family,” she said. “We grew to complete each other. We had this thing growing up [that] I was Queen V and she was Princess P […] I am standing before you as half of who I am, and God is being really generous that half of me is walking and speaking to you right now, only because of the love that Priscilla gave and put into the world.”
Both students, who were roommates, were scheduled to graduate in May and were on a personal trip abroad. Jill and Jim McGrath, Victoria’s parents, said they are trying to work through sorrow in a positive way.
“There are any number of ways that one can respond to tragedy, and the majority of the options can be destructive,” they wrote in a statement to the extended family and friends of Victoria. “What Victoria taught all of us was how, against the odds, to respond with determination, humility and not a single note of bitterness. Let us gather our grief and understand what it truly is – a transmutation of our love for Victoria – and let that understanding motivate us to be constructive as we eventually emerge from this tragedy.”
McGrath and Perez Torres will be awarded posthumous degrees at this year’s commencement ceremony, Aoun said at the memorial.
“This is a heartbreaking loss to their families, friends and to all of us in the Northeastern family,” he wrote in a March 7 letter to the Northeastern community. “Each were kind, talented young women, with exceptional futures before them […] Victoria and Priscilla touched many of our lives, and we will miss them terribly.”
McGrath was a student in the D’Amore-McKim School of Business and a member of Northeastern’s Business Advisory Club. During the 2013 Boston Marathon Bombing, she was at the site of the first explosion when shrapnel from an explosion injured her, according to News archives.
“Our hearts ache for the family and friends of our former patient Victoria McGrath. She made a lasting impact on those who knew her,” Tufts Medical Center staff said over Twitter on the morning of March 7.
Perez Torres worked on issues related to nutrition and women’s health, according to Aoun’s letter. At Northeastern, she was a student in the College of Science and and a member of GlobeMed and Science Club for Girls. She was also a clinical research coordinator at New England Baptist Hospital.
Gabriela Pabon, Perez Torres’s long-time friend from Puerto Rico, said her grieving has started to hurt less since hearing of her friend’s passing, but she is still in shock. She said she recalls growing up with Perez Torres and having a relationship that resembled sisterhood.
“It’s a huge loss. I feel like I am still accepting it,” she said. “In ninth grade, we took honors chemistry together […] and we were always so nervous and so stressed out about the class. But I don’t know how, telling her about what was going on she would find the words to make me feel as if I could get 100 in the class. I don’t know what she would do, but that year, that we studied so much together, we got to know each other like we were sisters.”
Perez Torres was always looking out for those she cared about, Pabon said.
“No matter what you were going through she would always want to make sure you felt OK,” she said. “Who she was, her essence, for people that actually knew her, she was a blessing.”
Photo courtesy McGrath and Perez Torres families