By Jeremy Walsh
Christmas preparations turned to sadness at the Church of the Ascension in Elmhurst as the congregation gathered Tuesday to mourn Jasmine Paragas, the 14-year-old girl killed by a school bus last week while crossing the street.
Standing next to Jasmine’s plain white casket, the Rev. Vito Buonanno read several biblical passages typically reserved for the Christmas season and urged the 150 or so mourners to carry the spirit of hope.
“The light that pierces the darkness — that was Jasmine,” he said, recalling her as a quiet, artistic girl who regularly volunteered at the parish’s Faith Foundation program with her classmates from Francis Lewis High School.
As she did every morning, Paragas walked from her Elmhurst home last Thursday to catch the Q88 bus from the Queens Center Mall to Francis Lewis. Her mother, Connie, accompanied her as far as Queens Boulevard before they parted ways, according to a neighbor, Showkat Kazi.
But Jasmine never made it to her bus.
The 14-year-old was struck and killed by a school bus while crossing a street just behind the mall, police and education officials said. Family and neighbors on Paragas’ quiet residential street were crushed by the news.
“She goes to church every Sunday,” said Elpie Shiffler, 55, Paragas’ aunt. Paragas’ parents were too distraught to speak to the media, Shiffler said.
“I feel devastated, very bad,” said Kazi, 54, whose daughter was a frequent playmate and schoolmate of Paragas’ at Francis Lewis. “It’s like it was done to my daughter.”
Paragas, who was a freshman at Francis Lewis, was crossing 57th Avenue at 90th Street at 8:10 a.m. when she was hit by a school bus driving down 57th Avenue, police said.
The impact left her bleeding from the head and unconscious, police said. She was transported to Elmhurst Hospital Center, where she was pronounced dead.
Kazi said he learned of the accident from his daughter, who called him crying after an announcement was made at the school at about 12:30 p.m. He called the Paragas home and reached a nursing aide for a disabled member of the household, who notified Paragas’ mother and father, Noel, at their respective workplaces.
Omar Hererra, 20, a tenant in the Paragas family’s home, said Jasmine Paragas was an honor student at PS 102 in Elmhurst and was close to her 10-year-old brother.
“They still played around, and he followed her everywhere,” Herrera said. “I always bothered her. I said, ‘No boyfriends?’ She just smiled.” He added that she was “really a shy person.”
Hererra’s sister, Michelle, 15, added, “She was a sweetheart, the best little girl you could ever want.”
Kasi said the Paragas family emigrated to Elmhurst from the Philippines six years ago.
Police at the scene last Thursday morning were investigating the rear wheel of the small school bus, which stopped about 30 feet past the crosswalk.
The bus driver, an older man who declined comment, remained at the scene and was not arrested, police said. A reporter overheard him say he was shaken up by the incident.
Bystanders said the intersection, just a block away from Queens Boulevard and the Queens Center Mall, is often crowded.
“Once the green light hits, everybody flies through there trying to beat the light,” said Daniel Mabra, 30, who works at the T-Mobile store in the mall. “You can’t walk through. You have to run.”
Reach reporter Jeremy Walsh by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org or by phone at 718-229-0300, Ext. 154.