A GW freshman died in a car accident in Panama last month when a vehicle he was driving plowed into a truck.
The death of Daniel M?ndez, a native of Panama, elicited an outpouring of grief in his country, as hundreds of people attended the funeral of an idealistic young man who would never live to see his dreams realized.
On campus, M?ndez’s friends, many of whom learned about his death only upon returning from winter break, said they are struggling to imagine life without M?ndez, who made an indelible impact on their lives in his one semester at GW.
M?ndez, along with two of his friends, died in the early hours of Dec. 24, when his Honda CRV hit a large truck from behind on a road several miles outside Panama City, said Carmen Mora, deputy assistant to the Panamanian ambassador in D.C. A fourth passenger suffered several broken bones and was released from the hospital.
Panamanian police are still investigating the accident, Mora said. GW freshman Susana Fonseca, who grew up with M?ndez in Panama and attended high school with him, said M?ndez and his friends were driving to a restaurant when they crashed into the truck. She said M?ndez was pronounced dead after he was taken out of the car.
M?ndez, 19, is the second GW student to die in the last month. On Dec. 19, the body of GW Law School student Chris Bartok was found in the Potomac River near the Lincoln Memorial.
M?ndez lived in the Mount Vernon Campus’ Cole Hall and was preparing to major in international business. Friends, who described him as a “very honest and humble person,” recalled his love of politics and his desire to be president of Panama.
“He wanted to change the world,” Fonseca said. “He wanted the best for his country.”
She said M?ndez’s love of politics drew him to D.C. and the University.
“He loved Washington, D.C.,” she said. “That was part of why he came here – the political environment.”discussions about world events, Fonseca said.
“When he was 10, he could talk about economics or anything,” she said.
While M?ndez’s desire to study politics led him to the United States, he was very proud of his Latin and Jewish roots and never stopped thinking about the country he left, said freshman Nicole Vidal, a friend of M?ndez’s.
“When he was in a classroom, he would draw (Panamanian) flags everywhere,” she said.
Vidal said M?ndez was “one of the most loyal friends” who “put everybody before himself,” often helping friends with homework and talking about their personal problems.
Junior Dhruva Beeharilil, a Cole Hall community facilitator, said he was worried that the members of the residence hall’s tight-knit community would be deeply affected by M?ndez’s death.
“He was a pretty good kid. He was quiet,” Beeharilil said. “This was a really big shock since he was around my age. You don’t really think of this happening to someone my age.”
Fonseca, who attended M?ndez’s funeral Dec. 25, said hundreds of people packed into a small synagogue in Panama City to mourn the loss of a man who belonged to one of the country’s wealthiest and well-known families.
The death of M?ndez and his friends, who were all members of prominent Panamanian families, jolted the country and was widely covered in the press.
“Everyone was in shock,” Mora said. She said M?ndez’s friend who survived the crash is the nephew of Panamanian presidential candidate Jos? Miguel Alem?n.
“It was very difficult and it affected a lot of people,” she said.
Several of M?ndez’s high school friends wrote a page-long tribute to him in Panama’s main newspaper, La Prensa.
“Some people come into our lives and quickly go. Some stay for a while, leave footprints on our hearts and we are never, ever the same,” the students wrote, borrowing a well-known quote.
M?ndez is survived by two younger siblings and his parents, Roberto and Sandra. A vigil to commemorate the one-month anniversary of his death will take place Saturday at 12:10 p.m. at St. Stephen Martyr Church at 2436 Pennsylvania Ave. N.W.
–Blair Lazarus contributed to this report.