When police brought Ukennia Arinze’s son to her without his twin sister from the scene of the school bus crash, they didn’t have to tell her the rest.
“Once you can’t find your other child, you kind of just know,” she said. “I felt like I had a peaceful calming come over me. ... It was just a calming that came over me once I discovered that that was Zykia still on the bus.
“I’m gonna miss her every day, every moment. Every time I close my eyes I see my beautiful daughter smiling.”
Arinze was exhausted but still standing with the support of family and strangers alike at a candlelight vigil Wednesday night to honor her daughter, Zykia Burns, and the other victims killed the day before in the bus crash.
Nearly 200 people gathered outside Church Street United Methodist Church downtown in remembrance of 6-year-old Zykia and fellow Sunnyview Primary School student Seraya Glasper, 7, along with teacher’s aide Kimberly Riddle, 46.
All three died aboard Bus 57 when it was struck by another school bus along Asheville Highway on Tuesday afternoon.
The crash remains under investigation by Knoxville police and federal authorities.
Overcome with tears, Arinze still beamed with pride as she spoke about her daughter, a second-grader with a love of learning, who had skipped the first grade and was eager to appear in her church’s upcoming Christmas play.
“She couldn’t wait,” the mother said. “She didn’t feel her role was long enough, so they gave her more lines to say because that’s just what type of child she was. She was always striving to be the best. She didn’t want to disappoint anyone.”
Arinze’s son and Zykia’s twin brother, Zyquese, who also was aboard Bus 57, survived the crash with minor injuries.
Arinze said she was humbled by the turnout at the vigil. And she said she and her loved ones are grieving for the families of Seraya and Riddle as well.
Tonya Hill arrived at the vigil after hearing that her old classmate from Holston High School, Jeff Riddle, had lost his wife in the crash.
I just felt compelled to come and to lift him and his family up in prayer, and let them know that the people of Knoxville feel his hurt and feel his pain,” Hill said. “And that through it all, God loves him and he’s going to be there for him.”
As a twin, Hill also felt a connection to Arinze’s family.
“It really touched home,” she said. “When I found out about the crash, I called my identical twin sister right away.”
Matt Hampton, an associate pastor with Church Street Methodist, said the vigil came about quickly after church officials were approached by several local radio stations about hosting the gathering.
“We’re honored to get to do it,” Hampton said.
Also among the crowd Wednesday night was Constance Henley, a teacher at Copper Ridge Elementary School, who previously worked with Sydney Upton, the current principal at Sunnyview Primary.
Henley said her thoughts were with Sunnyview’s teachers as much as with the families directly touched by the crash.
“I can just imagine the pain that they’re all going through — I just feel it right here in my heart,” Henley said. “Because I know what we go through as educators to take care of our kids. They’re our family. Once they walk into our classroom, they become ours.”