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Office of International Studies and Programs


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Office of International Studies and Programs
Central Washington University
400 E. University Way
Ellensburg, WA 98926-7408
Phone: (509) 963-3612
Fax: (509) 963-1558

CWU Community Comes Together to Mourn Loss of International Students

The CWU campus community is mourning the loss of two international students who died as the result of a car accident in southern California last Saturday. The two women, and two others who survived the crash, were enrolled at Central Washington University participating in CWU's University English as a Second Language (UESL) program.

The students who died as a result of the accident were Yoshiko Hirooka, of Osaka, Japan, and Saya Sonoda, from Fukuoka, the capital city of Fukuoka Prefecture on the island of Kyushu, Japan. Injured in the accident were Aimi Hayashi and Maki Tagawa, both from Fukuoka.

CWU President James L Gaudino said the tragedy sent shock waves throughout the close-knit CWU community.

"We're simply heartbroken. We cannot believe that these beautiful friends, daughters, and students are gone," said Gaudino, who said CWU staff flew to Palm Springs to be with the students shortly after the accident. “Our staff and faculty have been in close contact with the students and their families and we want to extend our heartfelt condolences to them and to friends and family in Japan who mourn this painful loss."

The Dean of Student Success said parents of the students were notified as quickly as possible. While family were on their way to California, Interim Dean of Student Success Richard DeShields and UESL Director Sherri Fujita were already in California to help the students with any need.

Meanwhile, students in Ellensburg have reacted with compassion and emotion to the news and are honoring and remember the students in many ways. UESL students have created posters on which friends can write personal messages to the UESL students and their families. On Friday (Dec. 5) at 7:30 pm near Munson Hall in Ellensburg, the campus community will hold a Gathering of Support candle-lighting ceremony to honor all of the girls. Another remembrance ceremony is planned for Saturday afternoon.

"We have been overwhelmed by the tragedy and by the outpouring of support and love that has--and  continues to be--shown to these young women," said the Dean of Student Success. "We will do everything we possibly can to help them and their families and friends get through this incredibly difficult and painful time."

Media Contact: Linda Schactler, Executive Director of Public Affairs, 509-607-4103

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