Vigil held in remembrance of UK student


Gabriela’s roommate Madison Katuramu (left) and sister Sydney Banks (right), as well as other fellow UK students shared a heartfelt moment of remembrance at the vigil of Freshman Gabriela Garay in front of Jewell Hall Thursday, Sept. 7,2017 in Lexington, KY. Photo by Kaitlyn Gumm| Staff

Kaitlyn Skovran

A tearful vigil was held outside of Jewell Hall on Thursday evening for the passing of UK freshman Gabriela Garay.

Students came to pay their respects with candles and prayers for Garay, who passed away in her sleep Tuesday morning.

Garay’s sister Sydney Banks, a pre-law sophomore, spoke about Garay’s love for others. Following in her sister’s footsteps, Garay wanted to become a Wildcat and decided to come to UK from Washington, D.C. to pursue a degree in biology.

“She was so smart; so, so smart and beautiful,” Banks said.

Garay suffered from a rare medical condition called Arteriovenous Malformation (AVM), which is an abnormal connection between arteries and veins, usually in the brain or spine. Suffering from painful headaches, sweats and fainting spells, the condition didn’t hold Garay back.

“She missed her senior year of high school because of her condition. She spent that year in the hospital, but she still graduated,” Banks said. “She graduated with honors.”

Garay met communications freshman Madison Katuramu through Banks, who encouraged her to message Katuramu on Twitter. The two become great friends in June and decided to live together on campus. Before Garay and Katuramu began their dorm life, Katuramu was told of Garay’s condition and what to expect and do.

Garay and Katuramu met for the first time on move-in day and it was like reuniting with someone she had known her whole life, Katuramu said.

“To know someone already has your back before you even meet them in person, it was such a good feeling,” Katuramu said.

She said she thought she would be nervous meeting her roommate for the first time, but she wasn’t. They had matching shirts and anklets, Katuramu said.

“She had my back and I had hers,” she said.

During the vigil, Katuramu shared with the crowd the events leading up to Garay’s death. On Monday night, Garay complained of having a headache. Before Katuramu left for the store, she checked on Garay to make sure she was still doing okay. After Katuramu came back, she continued to check on Garay several times throughout the night.

It wasn’t until Katuramu received a phone call from Garay’s mother Tuesday morning that she learned something was wrong. Garay’s mother had not heard from her before her 8 a.m. class and asked Katuramu to check on her.

Katuramu found Garay in bed, having died in her sleep. Katuramu performed CPR after calling 911, but Garay had already passed.

“I did everything that I could. I did CPR, I called 911. I felt like I let Gaby and her parents down, because I knew about her condition and I wasn’t able to help her,” Katuramu said, with tears streaming down her face.

In the crowd were a few people Garay had known before coming to UK. Medical technology freshman Nia Taylor knew Garay throughout high school. The two became close during their time before college and their friendship was beginning to grow once the pair met up at UK.

“If it wasn’t for her missing school, you would have never known she was sick,” Taylor said. “She was always so positive and there wasn’t a day she wasn’t happy.”

Many people, including Taylor and Katuramu, said Garay had a heart of gold. They described her as outgoing, friendly and special. Garay welcomed everyone with open arms and a smile, they said.

“AVM is a serious problem with no cure. Go to the doctor and check your health and check the health of those you love,” Banks said. “People need to know Gaby, she was– no, is, beautiful.”