Burnaby grads killed in Iran crash were 'exceptional': teacher

A brother and sister killed in Wednesday’s Ukrainian passenger jet crash in Iran are being remembered in the Burnaby school district as “brilliant, gifted” students and “authentically good people” who were poised to make a difference in the world.

Mohammad and Zeynab Asadi Lari were on their way back to Toronto after spending Christmas with their family in Tehran, according to the Canadian Press, when their plane went down shortly after take-off, killing all 176 people on board, including 63 Canadians.

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Mohammad, 23, and Zeynab, 21, were graduates of Alpha Secondary School.

“They were those exceptional kids,” Alpha teacher Rae Figursky told the NOW. “We just knew we were going to see their names again somewhere doing amazing things, and amazing things for other people, not being the top CEO or something like that.”

Figursky taught Mohammad pre-Calculus 12 and Zeynab Math 10 when the pair first came to Alpha in 2013.

Mohammad was only at the school for one year but won the Governor General’s Academic Medal for being the grad with the top marks at Alpha in 2014.

Zeynab would be shorlisted for the prize when she graduated two years later.

Both siblings went on to study at UBC and then the University of Toronto, where Mohammad was a medical student and Zeynab was pursuing an honours science degree.

But it wasn’t for marks alone that the pair are being remembered by Alpha staff who knew them.

“Both of them were curious about many things, in the world, in life, in math and science, which was both their chosen fields of study,” Figursky said. “They were very different kinds of people, but they had that in common, where they really wanted to understand every nuance of a question or the possibility beyond what’s being asked.”

Figursky said she and other staff remember Mohammad, the more gregarious of the siblings, often coming in after school and talking to different teachers.

“It may or may not have had anything to do with the course he was taking with them,” Figursky said. “There were so many aspects of the world that he was curious about and wanted to discuss and hear other people’s perspectives on.”

Zeynab was a listener and observer who asked key questions, Figursky remembers.

“She would also have some very witty and humorous observations on life as well, although you wouldn’t almost expect it from her,” she said.

Both siblings pursued their chosen fields “in ways that would maximize benefit to society and to community,” according to Figursky, and that was just who they were.

“It’s tragic,” she said. “As teachers, we expect those kids to outlive us and do better than us. We’re sending fledglings out into the world when they graduate. It’s even more sad when it’s two people who were so exceptional.”

Burnaby school district superintendent Gina Niccoli-Moen sent a letter to staff Friday, urging those affected by the deadly crash to seek out support.  

“The losses resulting from this tragedy are being felt across the country,” she wrote. “Our hearts and thoughts go out to the family and all who knew them.”

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