Last spring, Margaret Hirezi of Baton Rouge, La., couldn't have been happier. Her granddaughter Rawand's birthday was May 25 and, that same month, she'd graduate from George Mason University with a degree in criminal justice.
"In March, my son called to say, 'I'm sending you two tickets to come for her birthday and graduation. It will be a big celebration,'" she said. "Then on April 1, we got a telephone call [about Rawand's death]. And instead of celebrating her life, we came here to her funeral."
Margaret Hirezi, like the rest of Rawand's family and friends, was devastated by her death, and she flew here last week for the trial of the woman who killed her granddaughter in a car accident.
"I think often about this tragedy that happened to us," she said outside the courtroom. "We were so excited to have a granddaughter who was going to become a lawyer and who wanted to help juveniles. I like helping people, and I saw a lot of myself in her."
"Then all of a sudden, the angel was snatched from us due to the negligence and irresponsibility of a driver," continued Margaret Hirezi. "I have her picture in the den and I cry and pray for her every day. I'm sure her soul is peaceful."
RAWAND'S family has lived in the Braddock Farms area since she was in fifth grade. She attended Lanier Middle School and graduated from Fairfax High in 2000 and was commonly called Randi or Roro.
"Singing was her passion and she sang with the choir at NOVA," said Sterling's Jessica Sabatino. "She also loved [the cartoon character] Piglet and pan pizza with ketchup."
After a jury last week convicted Front Royal's Christina Peele of aggravated involuntary manslaughter in connection with the 23-year-old's death, Sabatino was relieved.
"No matter what we do to her, it doesn't bring back Roro," she said. "But at least, [Peele] won't be out there to do it again."
After Rawand's funeral, said Sabatino, "I had dreams where she was telling me, 'I'm OK; I'm in a better place' and not to worry about her. She wasn't just my friend, she was my sister."
Another longtime friend, Vicki McFadden, said Rawand's smile would brighten a room, and former boyfriend, Allen Hermes, called her a "walking angel, living saint. She'd give money to panhandlers and, now, I do, too. She made me live a better life in her honor."
Her aunt, Miranda Conyers of Fair Lakes, said her niece loved music and poetry and also had been helping "poor and troubled children in Falls Church, and we're keeping her legacy alive."
It was originally a school project, but Rawand kept volunteering there after the project ended, so her family established the Rawand Hirezi Foundation to continue helping these children. Checks may be sent to it at P.O. Box 223851, Chantilly, VA 20153.
WHEN PEELE was convicted, Conyers was glad. "I cried because I feel like justice was done," she explained. "It was good to see that [the jurors] could see our pain. I would have been heartbroken if they'd found her not guilty. She's a dangerous woman and she needs to pay a price. But I hope she gets help in prison."
Perhaps Rawand's own words on the home page of the foundation Web site, www.rawandhirezi.org, describe her personal philosophy the best: "I love to laugh and try to be as positive as I can, even when things don't go well. Life is short, you only live once, so try to make the best of it."