HOBOKEN, N.J. (AP) — Fabiola Bittar de Kroon fought for her life as she lay trapped among the wreckage of the Hoboken Terminal.
“I just told her to fight for your breath, think about your family, think about your friends, think about tomorrow,” said Rahman Perkins, a crash bystander who comforted the dying de Kroon. “I just wanted her to feel special and just don’t think about the pain, don’t think about whatever this chaos is, don’t worry about it, you’ll be fine.”
De Kroon, a young mother, talented lawyer and dedicated wife with a penchant for travel, died from her injuries in the Thursday commuter train crash that injured more than 100 others. She was 34.
Earlier Thursday morning, de Kroon was, like so many others headed to the station during the morning commute, needing to catch a train and in a rush.
She dropped off her toddler with a hurried smile and 60 seconds of good, but fleeting, conversation with a day care worker, as she had done dozens of times since her small family had packed up their home in Brazil and moved to New Jersey in April.
Smart-Start Academy owner Karlos Magner closed the child’s stroller with a goodbye to de Kroon. Everything was fine, he said. It was a typical day, with its usual stream of children and parents giving hugs and kisses on their way back out the door.
De Kroon traveled the mile and a half from her daughter’s daycare to the waiting area at the station. The mother, according to news reports, had plans to travel that day in search of a new apartment for her family.
It wasn’t until 11 a.m. that Magner heard the news.
At about 8:45 a.m., a train traveling too fast had barreled down the tracks with such speed that it plowed into a barrier and went airborne into the station.
Debris fell from the ceiling as the station’s roof partially collapsed and pipes ruptured from its walls. People scattered in the moment of panic, but downed wires and the station’s crumbled, metal roof trapped some at the chaotic scene.
The force of the crash cut the lights inside the train and sent passengers flying from their seats. About 250 passengers escaped from the train, climbing out of its windows and around downed beams to the sound of panicked shouts and screams outside.
Outside, de Kroon was trapped but not alone.
Perkins tried to hug the woman as she died.
“I saw that beauty in her. I saw that peace,” he said. “I want (de Kroon’s family) to know she was that same person, she wasn’t mangled, she wasn’t all over the place, she was just there and unfortunately she didn’t make it.”
De Kroon, a 2011 master’s degree graduate from Florida International University’s College of Business, had previously lived in Florida, but was a Brazil native. She’d temporarily paused her legal career, leaving the software company SAP in Brazil after her husband got a job with an international liquor company.
Word of Fabiola de Kroon’s death made its way across states and continents and her former co-workers felt their lives pause for a moment.
In Florida, anger and shock boiled in Cecilia Marques, a former co-worker at a company that specialized in travel to Brazil. Marques had a difficult time finding words to express her sadness for the woman she said was a “great, talented, big and genuine heart.”
Near Sao Pualo, Brazil, Dolf Wiemer, a former LG Electronics co-worker, thought back to the last time he saw de Kroon stand with her husband in the couple’s near-empty Brazil home. They seemed ready to move and embrace a new dream.
“An international couple not avoiding any adventure by even moving countries in (pursuit) of a better (life),” Wiemer said.
Life had sent the couple in different directions on Thursday. She waited for a train, while he was on the road in Pennsylvania.
Daan de Kroon traveled hours back to his daughter, but he had a hundred questions in the wake of his wife’s death. What should he say?
“And I’m telling him, you know what, to be honest, you’re not born knowing how to handle this,” Magner said. “He goes, ‘Should I tell her, should I tell her now?'”
It was too soon.
Trimble reported from Philadelphia. Associated Press writer Dake Kang contributed to this report.