As investigators have charged a California man for intentionally driving his car into a Toyota Prius full of teenagers, three of whom died, last week, the victims are being remembered as joyful Christians who regularly attended their church’s youth group in Corona.
“The Olive Branch family is grieving today for the tragedy that happened … in Temescal Canyon. We, as a Church and School, mourn with all who are mourning. All six boys attended our school (through eighth grade) and were dearly loved by our staff,” wrote Olive Branch Community Church and School on its Facebook page.
Last Sunday night, Daniel Hawkins of Corona, Jacob Ivascu of Riverside, Drake Ruiz of Corona and three of their friends pulled a prank during a sleepover for Ivascu’s birthday. They wanted to ring a friend’s doorbell and run away.
However, it turned out to be the house of an apparently unknown man, 42-year-old Anurag Chandra, who chased the teens’ Prius in his Infinity Q50 and rammed it into their car, which spun out of control and hit a tree on the side of the road. The three 16-year-olds — Hawkins, Ivascu and Ruiz — died in the crash. Their friends survived with injuries.
“All of the boys involved attended our school and were bright lights that impacted many hearts here on campus,” the Christian school said.
Family and church leaders remembered the boys as a tight-knit group of committed Christians, according to USA Today.
In a youth group of about 80 teenagers, their joy was evident, Taylor Mendoza, pastor of student ministries for Northpoint Community Free Church, was quoted as saying.
Mendoza described Hawkins as “a kid who can think well … soft and tender toward others” and receptive to learning more about Christian teachings.
“Every kid does ‘Ding Dong Ditch,’ but you don’t know who’s behind that door,” said Ruiz’s mother, Debbie Ruiz, as reported by The Press-Enterprise. “From the minute I heard it, I knew God had a plan … I couldn’t not think this way, because God is bigger than us.”
Remembering her son, Debbie Ruiz said, “He was a class clown … Joy and happiness were his main priorities in life. We had a lot of fun together. Especially with their boys. It was my goal that we have fun. And we had a lot of fun.”
More than 100 people gathered last Monday at Northpoint Evangelical Free Church to pray for the three boys who were killed and the others who were injured, according to The Mercury News.
“We sang songs to God, just crying out to him for comfort and peace that could only come from him,” Stefany Nguyen, a friend of one of the families affected by the incident, was quoted as saying.
A candlelight vigil was held Friday to grieve and remember the three teens.
Police arrested Chandra last week on suspicion of murder and assault with a deadly weapon, according to the Enterprise, which reported that the charges were later upgraded to three counts of murder and three counts of attempted murder.
“Our investigation led us to believe Mr. Chandra intentionally rammed the Prius, causing the driver to lose control. The investigation has now changed from a hit-run collision to homicide,” California Highway Patrol Lt David Yokley said, according to Washington Examiner.