ROSARIO, Argentina (Reuters) - Argentina on Wednesday mourned the loss of five high-school buddies from the city of Rosario who were killed when a driver of a pickup truck plowed through a bike path in New York where they were celebrating the 30th anniversary of their graduation.
“They went to celebrate life, and found death,” Jorge Cetta, a spokesman for the victims’ polytechnic high school, said in an interview.
Flags flew at half-staff in Rosario, and the city declared three days of mourning. On the banks of the Parana River in northern Argentina, Rosario is the country’s main grain-exporting hub, as well as hometown to leftist revolutionary Ernesto “Che” Guevara and soccer great Lionel Messi.
Eight people were killed and 11 injured in lower Manhattan in the attack on the popular bike path along the Hudson River, The suspect, 29-year-old Uzbek immigrant Sayfullo Saipov, was charged with acting on behalf of Islamic State, whose followers have carried out vehicle attacks in several cities, mostly in Europe.
Dozens of people held a candlelight vigil on Wednesday night at the 111-year-old high school. The crowd was made up of parents and children and former and current students.
“The feeling is one of impotence, that a crazy person cut their lives off like that,” said Marta Albert, a 58-year-old nurse and graduate of the school.
In Buenos Aires, Argentine President Mauricio Macri praised the five architects and businessmen as model citizens.
“We must all stand together in the fight against terrorism,” he said. The president, who has a previously scheduled trip to New York next week, spoke on Wednesday with U.S. President Donald Trump, who expressed his condolences, Macri’s office said.
The family and employees of one of the victims, businessman Ariel Erlij, remembered them in a letter to the Argentine newspaper Clarin. “This is sad news for the world, but even more so for those of us who had the opportunity of getting to know them,” the letter read.
The Argentine government identified the other four dead as Hernán Diego Mendoza, Diego Enrique Angelini, Alejandro Damián Pagnucco and Hernán Ferruchi, whose son studies at the same high school. The victims were 48 to 49 years old.
A sixth Argentine, Martin Ludovico Marro, was injured and hospitalized in Manhattan. His prognosis was good, Mateo Estreme, Argentina’s consul general in New York, told reporters.
Four other members of the group were unharmed.
The trip had been organised by Erlij, whose Rosario-based company, Ivanar SA, distributes steel products. The businessman had helped pay for two of his friends to go on the trip, Cetta said.
“He was a lot more than a great father and a great businessman,” said the letter in Clarin. “He was, more than anything, a great person who knew how to bring perseverance and commitment to every aspect of this life.”
A picture of the friends at the airport before they flew to New York, published by Clarin, showed eight men grinning with arms linked, wearing matching white T-shirts that said “Libre,” or “Free” in Spanish.
“There were strong links among these friends, which is why they had decided to take this trip together after 30 years,” the director of the high school, Alicia Oliva, told journalists in Rosario, adding that the school had declared a week of mourning.
The incident marked the deadliest single attack in New York since suicide hijackers crashed jetliners into the Twin Towers of the World Trade Center in lower Manhattan on Sept. 11, 2001, killing more than 2,600 people.
Argentina has been spared the attacks that have plagued Europe and North America in recent years, although Buenos Aires suffered deadly assaults on the Israeli embassy and AMIA Jewish Community centre decades ago.
Additional reporting by Maximilian Heath, Luc Cohen, Juliana Castilla, Cassandra Garrison and Juan Bustamante in Buenos Aires, and Julia Simon in New York; Writing by Caroline Stauffer and Hugh Bronstein; Editing by Jonathan Oatis and Peter Cooney