Fahimeh Behboodi shakes her head in disbelief.
She’s reading the news that the plane crash that killed so many people she knew may have been caused by an Iranian missile.
But she doesn’t want to be distracted by the possibility that such a catastrophic error took the lives of her friends and former classmates.
“I prefer not to think about it, because I will be mad,” she says.
Instead, she spent Thursday in her Edmonton apartment co-ordinating a memorial service for the victims of Ukraine International Airlines Flight 752 disaster, which killed 138 people headed to Canada from Tehran. Iranian-Canadian community leaders have estimated up to 30 Edmontonians died in the crash and, like the rest of the city, Ms. Behboodi is still reeling from the tragedy.
Planning the service, she says, is a way to cope with the sadness, to keep herself busy.
Every time she tries to sleep, images of the victims pop into her head. The University of Alberta graduate knew many of the Edmontonians who died and had met almost all of them at one time or another. She tells stories about the times she played volleyball with one of the women, or how she offered guidance to another who was a new student trying to find her footing.
Most of all, she remembers their smiles.
“Why didn’t I tell these people then how much I was influenced by them?” she says.
The loss is apparent elsewhere in the city.
“The grief is just dripping from the walls,” University of Alberta president David Turpin says.
The university has confirmed that 10 members of its community – two professors, two alumni and the rest students – died on the flight.
There is a strong Iranian community at the school, he says, with about 400 international students from Iran, and another 100 who are permanent residents. “It’s a close community. It’s well connected into the greater region. These students and faculty are brilliant,” Dr. Turpin says. “And they’ve come here to make the world a better place.”
The 10th floor of the university’s Donadeo Innovation Centre for Engineering, where professor Pedram Mousavi’s office is located, is quiet and sombre on Thursday. His office door is adorned with flowers and letters – along with large photos of him and his wife, fellow engineering professor Mojgan Daneshmand. Both died in Wednesday’s crash, along with their two daughters, Daria, 14, and Dorina, 9.
“Pedram, you will be missed deeply and dearly,” one note says.
Throughout the building, signs point to private rooms where counsellors, social workers and trained volunteers are providing support to students, faculty and staff.
Mahdi Mokhtari, an Iranian student who is working on a PhD in structural engineering, says Dr. Mousavi was an accomplished and much-respected mechanical engineering professor who helped teach a key introductory course to all engineering graduate students.
He was known for his friendly nature. Mr. Mokhtari still pictures him standing coffee in hand, chatting with a student just before the holidays.
“No one ever thought that they would never come back here,” Mr. Mokhtari says.
Dr. Turpin has received messages of condolences from university presidents around the world, along with Alberta Premier Jason Kenney and Deputy Prime Minister Chrystia Freeland.
“The thing that’s impossible to convey is the magnitude of the loss,” Dr. Turpin says. “When I was over in Engineering and Computing Science yesterday, the tears and the grieving were unbelievable.”
Flags at the Alberta Legislature building have flown at half-mast since Wednesday to recognize the tragedy. Behind it, the High Level Bridge that crosses the North Saskatchewan River has been lit red and white in a mark of remembrance.
On Wednesday, Edmonton Mayor Don Iveson choked back tears as he offered condolences to the friends and families of people who lost their lives.
“We haven’t had a tragedy of this magnitude that anyone can remember in recent years affect so many people directly in our city at one time,” he said.
“We feel their pain too, and the community will rally around them in the days ahead.”
On Sunday afternoon, Edmontonians will gather to mourn the losses. In a two-hour service, university faculty, students, government officials and friends and family of the victims will come together to remember those who died.
On Thursday, as she helped organize the memorial service, Ms. Behboodi apologizes, frowning at her phone as she types a message in a group chat with other members of Edmonton’s Iranian community.
“The time is finalized, I just need to announce it,” she says quietly.
More than 550 members of the Iranian-Canadian community are helping out with the service, volunteering to cook, plan and do whatever they can as they also wrestle with their grief.
Ms. Behboodi’s phone rings. On the other end of the line, a question – what to serve on Sunday? Water? Juice? Following Iranian tradition, there must be dates.
“The only thing that’s helping me is organizing. I want to get the best out of a catastrophic situation. I’m sure I could sit down and cry for six hours, but if I do that worse things will happen after that six hours,” she says.
“Every moment I ask God, ‘God, just please take away some part of this deep pain that we have. It’s too much.’ ”
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