Tu’iemanu Ripley, 21, was a University of Central Missouri student, a rugby player and a member of the ROTC from a tight-knit Samoan family.
Caleb M. Lugano, 22, was a Donnelly College nursing student, a father and recently naturalized U.S. citizen originally from Kenya.
On Monday, friends remembered the two, who died in a crash over the weekend, as outgoing people, each with a great sense of humor and each deeply compassionate.
Ripley and Lugano died when the red Chevrolet Camaro that Lugano was driving crashed about 11:30 p.m. Saturday. Lugano apparently lost control of the car and it ran off an Interstate 435 overpass and landed on Gregory Boulevard, police said.
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Two other University of Central Missouri students in the car were hurt. A 23-year-old woman is in critical condition at a local hospital. A 22-year-old woman is in stable condition.
The day before Ripley died, she attended a luau-themed party in honor of her 21st birthday. The party was hosted by a friend in the Samoan community, a tight-knit group of people originally from the South Pacific living in the Kansas City area, friend Tufue Tua said.
Although Ripley had grown up in American Samoa, she knew imperfect Samoan and apologized for not speaking more proficiently, Tua remembered. Otherwise, Ripley was thrilled.
“She was very bubbly,” Tua said Monday. “Always smiling and laughing. Her personality was contagious. You’ll never see a picture where she’s not smiling.”
A vigil in honor of Ripley, who had also studied at Wentworth Military Academy and College in Lexington, Mo., and to support the other two students injured in the crash, is planned for 5 p.m. Thursday at the university chapel, University of Central Missouri spokesman Jeff Murphy said.
Ripley, whose first name is Eugenie but went by Tu’iemanu in the U.S., was born in American Samoa, a family member said, and moved back and forth between American Samoa and Samoa. She attended the Kanana Fou High School, a secondary school located on a theology seminary campus in Pago Pago, and earned a scholarship to Wentworth. She was later invited to training programs at West Point and Fort Knox, Kentucky.
Ripley is the fourth of six children — Vaimo’oia, Lorenz, Eric, Lukas and Delacruz Ripley. Her parents and siblings live in Australia and New Zealand.
She was a talented athlete who had competed for the American Samoa women’s soccer team at the 2011 Pacific Games and at the inaugural Youth Olympic Games in Singapore in 2010. She could be found playing the ukulele and teaching others to play the instrument. And she was a formidable rugby player who competed for the University of Central Missouri women’s team.
“She would always challenge,” her mother, Salamasina von Reiche, said. “I think she got an A- once at school and she challenged the teacher and got it changed to an A+!”
Jennifer Thiebaud, a Hofstra University student, met Ripley at a cadet leaders course in Fort Knox, Ky., last summer.
It was a tough camp, and Thiebaud said she had trouble opening up to people and making friends. But not with Ripley.
“I admired how easily she could communicate with others, and I envied her charisma,” Thiebaud said. “After that, I found it hard to leave her. She walked me to the gate, and it was the most dramatic goodbye I’ve ever given anyone.”
For many American Samoans, military service is a ticket away from the island, Tua said. Ripley was proud and excited about becoming a military officer and was a member of the ROTC at the University of Central Missouri.
This past year, she went to American Samoa and Australia to visit family members during winter break, Tua said, but she decided to remain in Missouri this summer to take classes. She referenced the trip home on her social media accounts.
“It’s been 2 years since I last saw my family,” Ripley wrote on the photo app Instagram some time after. “Every time I leave it breaks my heart. Time is so precious, Esp with family. Thank you for an amazing month to reflect on my past semesters and for always picking me up when I’m at my lowest. I miss you all allot!!!”
On Monday night, friends of Lugano gathered at Joe Muroka’s home in Gardner.
“Caleb was a great guy,” Muroka said. “Everybody who knows him, loved him. Even if he interacted with you or met you for just five minutes, you would’ve just fallen in love with him.”
Lugano was a deeply compassionate and caring person who put others first, Muroka said.
The night of the crash, for example, he volunteered to drive the women to a baby shower because they needed a ride.
Lugano was born in Kitale, Kenya, and grew up there and in Mombasa. He came to the United States to go to school. He was attending Donnelly College in Kansas City, Kan., where he was a nursing student.
Lugano worked as a nursing assistant taking care of patients with mental disabilities.
“He had a great sense of humor and was very jovial,” Muroka said.
He was passionate about the field of psychology, and one of his goals was to open a clinic, his friends said.
Lugano became a U.S. citizen last month. He and his friends had celebrated his citizenship a few weeks ago.
“I would call it one of the happiest moments,” Muroka said.
Lugano’s biggest joy, however, was his 3-year-old daughter, Jaelyn, whom he shared custody of with her mother. Lugano affectionately called his daughter JayBear, and his car had personalized tags with her nickname.
“Every time he was with his daughter, you’d see the fullness of his joy just come out,” Muroka said. “He’s a man who loved life, and he loved everybody.”