‘That pain is always going to be there’: Hundreds gather to remember pre-med student killed in crash

Students gathered in the Compass to commemorate the life of Brandon Dorns. Photo by Jon Mirador

Hannah Eason, News Editor

Andrew Ringle, Managing Editor

Many of Brandon’s brothers from Phi Gamma Delta spoke at the vigil. Photo by Jon Mirador


Hundreds of students gathered in the Compass on Tuesday night, but silence filled the air. It was occasionally broken by the sound of a lighter igniting a tea candle, or the sniffles of a mourning friend. 

Friends, family and fraternity brothers came together to remember Brandon Dorns, a pre-med student killed in a one-car accident in Goochland on Saturday.

Brandon, 22, was driving east on I-64 Saturday morning when the car veered left, hit an embankment, overturned and caught fire. He died at the scene. A front-seat passenger, Abanoub F. Zaki, was taken to the hospital with serious injuries.

Zaki is a VCU student and a brother in the Phi Gamma Delta fraternity. He sent a text message from the hospital to another fraternity brother, Hristo Bustamante, who read it aloud at the vigil.

“He lived such a beautiful life and treated people so well, as many of you all know,” Zaki said in the message. Bustamante said Zaki also mentioned having a conversation with Brandon about their own funerals just two weeks prior.

Brandon’s mother, Sherri Dorns, who spoke at the vigil, said this has been the longest time she’s gone without talking to her son.

“Life is fragile, love each other, and call your parents, call your mother,” Sherri Dorns said to the crowd.

Senior Almira Zaky, a close friend of Brandon’s, sang Ariana Grande’s “My Everything” and Christina Perry’s “A Thousand Years” at the vigil. She met Brandon at the beginning of her freshman year, and she said they instantly became close.

Zaky was on her way to Philadelphia with a friend when she learned of the car accident. She said she spent five hours afterward in her stopped car, crying and making phone calls to some of Brandon’s closest friends. Brandon was set to graduate with Zaky in December.

“It just really saddens me that I wasn’t able to walk with him this semester, because we had been through everything together,” Zaky said. “But now I think, myself included, everyone, I think their purpose is a little more aligned, knowing that everything we do now is for him. His fraternity, his close friends, it’s all for him.”

Phi Gamma Delta organized the memorial and started an online fundraiser in support of Brandon’s and Zaki’s families. According to the page, each family will receive 45% of the funds, and the remaining 10% will be used to establish the Brandon Dorns Memorial Scholarship. The GoFundMe raised more than $12,000, and $2,000 will fund the memorial scholarship for the next two years.

“I just think the success of that GoFundMe is super reflective on how much people loved him, and how much people really cared about him and wanted the best for him,” Zaky said. “It was everything that he would’ve wanted for himself to leave that kind of legacy and to be able to support his family.”

Michael Portillo, a member of Phi Gamma Delta, described the loss of Brandon as a “hole in his heart.”

Michael Portillo described the “hole in his heart” after Brandon’s death. Photo by Jon Mirador

“No matter how hard we try, no matter what we do, the prayers we make,” Portillo said, “that pain is always going to be there.”

Katey Mooney, a friend who met Brandon in 2017, shared memories of dressing up in Halloween costumes and remembered his constant smile.

“When I found out that he had passed,” Mooney said, “I was really shocked, and really angry.”

Friend Quinten Baird said he met Brandon during their freshman year in 2015, and they often pulled all-nighters, even when Brandon didn’t have any homework. Other memories included Brandon staying in the hospital with Baird for hours.

“Those friends don’t come into your life often,” Baird said. “When they do, hold them tight, cherish them, tell them you love them, because tomorrow isn’t promised.”

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