ABILENE, Texas – Wiping away tears or sobbing, about 200 students somberly filed into the Abilene Christian University campus chapel, its stained glass windows deep blue from the darkness outside.
Students embraced as they prayed Sunday night, mourning the loss of five students from Nigeria killed in a car crash while returning to campus from Easter break.
"Five precious people are gone, and we will miss them dearly," said Ted Presley, executive director of the school's Center for International and Intercultural Education. "I take some comfort in knowing they didn't suffer."
The victims' names were expected to be released Monday after relatives had been notified.
The two men and three women died instantly Sunday about 6:35 a.m. when their sport utility vehicle careened off Interstate 20 near Weatherford, about 110 miles east of Abilene. The vehicle slammed upside down onto a concrete embankment about 30 feet below, said Trooper Gary M. Rozzell with the Department of Public Safety.
The vehicle was little more than a red mangled mass of metal and wheels, flattened to only a portion of its original height. It bore little resemblance to a vehicle. Authorities were continuing Monday to investigate the cause of the crash.
"Like any vehicle out here on the highway, vehicles are not designed to take an impact from the roof ... (but) from the front, rear or side," Rozzell said. "And, of course, this one fell on its top, and impacted from the roof, which caved in on the people."
Presley said the two men had been visiting a former ACU student in Houston and the women had been visiting friends for the weekend. The school had been closed since Friday for Easter break.
The five were among 230 international students from 60 countries who attend Abilene Christian, founded in 1906 and affiliated with the Church of Christ. The school has 4,700 students.
"These were some of the best and brightest, and they always had a desire to study in America," university Provost Dwayne D. VanRheenen said.
International students develop a bond with faculty and staff because they stay with professors when they first arrive on campus, said Kevin Kehl, associate director of the university's international center.
Idong Attang, also from Nigeria, knew the victims well and said he was deeply saddened by their deaths.
"We hung out all the time and played video games, Monopoly and talked a lot," said Attang, 18, a sophomore majoring in biochemistry.
As students returned to campus Sunday night, about 200 were drawn together for an emotional, nearly hour-long service in a campus chapel. University officials talked about the victims and prayed for their families.
"It's a real tragedy," said Mark Morrow, 19, a sophomore finance major from Angleton, who did not know the victims. "It hurts me just to see everybody hurting. I came here for support. You can feel the love here."