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Student killed in bus crash in Thailand

Bill Brink | Monday, April 21, 2008

Andrew Bunikis, a junior from Zahm Hall, died in a bus crash in Thailand Friday.

Bunikis, 20, from Phoenix, Ariz., took a semester off to teach English to students in the Asian country. He first worked there last summer as part of Notre Dame’s Student International Business Council, the University said in a statement.

According to an article in The Nation, a Bangkok newspaper, the bus crashed in the Phitsanulok Province at 11:45 p.m. Seven other people were killed and 31 were injured.

“Andrew’s family and the Notre Dame family have suffered and shared a tragic loss,” University president Fr. John Jenkins said in the statement. “We assure the Bunikis family of our prayers during this difficult time, confident that Andrew will be embraced by the fullness of God’s love.”

Bunikis was an accountancy major from Phoenix, Ariz., the statement said.

Corry Colonna, Zahm’s rector, said he learned of the accident Friday afternoon.

“I actually received a phone call from one of his friends, I’m not sure how she found out,” Colonna said. “The most important thing was to get the University in the loop, and spend time confirming things with the U.S. consulate.”

After he heard about the accident, Colonna called his hall staff together and told them. After that, he gathered Bunikis’ closest friends to inform them in person.

“They were in shock, devastated,” Colonna said. “It was not a case where he was sick or anything of that sort. You just say goodbye figuring you’d see him again. It’s sad he was so far from home when this happened.”

After Bunikis’ close friends were told, Colonna sent an e-mail to Zahm residents informing them of the accident.

“[Bunikis] would e-mail me regularly about his experiences there, and the difference he was making with the children he taught,” Colonna wrote in the e-mail. “He was our brother and my friend and I’m sure that all of us will miss him dearly.

“Andrew was an exceptionally kind and giving young man. He cared a lot about this hall and his friends.”

Zahm held a mass to commemorate Bunikis Friday. Fr. Mark Poorman and former Zahm rector Fr. Dan Parrish attended, as did approximately 80 Zahm residents, Colonna said.

“He was pretty determined and working hard in the things he was doing, so he didn’t have the largest presence in the hall, but had a small, intimate group of friends that know him pretty well,” Colonna said. “They’re taking it worst. Several freshmen never met him, having only lived with him for one semester. I was really touched to see how many people were [at mass].”

Students have been grieving together with Colonna, he said, reminiscing about past memories with Bunikis and telling stories. Colonna said the Zahm community may assemble some sort of memorial for Bunikis’ parents as a way to share stories and memories his parents may not have known about their son.

“Parents don’t know all the stories,” Colonna said. “This is a chance to give them more memories.”

Colonna said there will probably be a delegation of students heading to Phoenix for the funeral, but did not know when the funeral was because of the time needed to retrieve Bunikis’ body from Thailand. There will be a Mass commemorating Bunikis on Tuesday at 10 p.m. in the Basilica. Jenkins will preside over the mass and Parrish will give the homily.