TORONTO — Schools across Ontario were in mourning Wednesday as more than a dozen students were revealed to have perished in a plane crash in Iran that claimed the lives of 176 people, including 138 who were bound for Canada.
As details of the deadly crash unfolded over the course of the day, universities, colleges and public schools lowered their flags to half-mast to honour the dead and offered supports for the grieving.
Several community groups planned tributes, organizing vigils outside the University of Toronto's family housing office on Wednesday night and at a mosque and a civic centre in the city's north on Thursday.
Western University urged members of its community to gather at the campus's international and graduate affairs building Wednesday afternoon to mourn three of its graduate students and an incoming graduate student the school said were among the dead.
"This is a difficult time, we are deeply saddened and it's important for all of us to come together as a caring community," the school said in a statement.
The University of Windsor said at least five students and researchers were on the passenger manifest for the plane that crashed on the outskirts of Tehran early Wednesday, leaving no survivors.
The University of Guelph identified two of the deceased as Milad Ghasemi Ariani, a PhD student in marketing and consumer studies, and Ghanimat Azdahri, a PhD student in the department of geography, environment and geomatics. The school initially said Azdahri's partner was also on the plane, but later said that had not been confirmed.
Faisal Moola, an ecology professor who worked with Azdahri, described her as a "firecracker" who was passionate about protecting traditional Indigenous lands around the world.
"That's what Ghanimat had essentially committed her life to ... to advance new forms of policy and governance that recognizes the customary rights of Indigenous peoples in terms of the conservation of plants and animals that are found within their traditional territories," Moola said Wednesday.
Azdahri, an Indigenous woman from a nomadic community in Iran, had arrived at the university to do research in September, he said.
"She was very small in stature ... but had this incredible ability to capture people's attention," Moola said, noting Azdhari had achieved international renown.
Both universities in Ottawa were also grieving on Wednesday. Carleton University said a PhD student, Fareed Arasteh, and an alumnus of the school, Mansour Pourjam, were among the victims. The University of Ottawa said three of its students had died.
A spokesman from the University of Waterloo said two of its PhD students were on the passenger list. McMaster University in Hamilton also said two of its graduate students — Iman Aghabali and Mehdi Eshaghian, both PhD students in the faculty of engineering — appeared to be on board.
The University of Toronto said six of its students — identified as Mojtaba Abbasnezhad, Mohammad Asadi Lari, Zeynab Asadi Lari, Mohammad Amin Beiruti, Mohammad Amin Jebelli and Mohammad Saleheh — were listed on the flight manifest.
Another Toronto institution, York University, said one of its students was also killed in the crash. George Brown College, also in Toronto, said a student in the architectural technology program was among the dead. Neither publicly identified the students.
Public school students in and around Toronto were also reeling in the aftermath of the crash, with Canada's largest school board saying a number of its students and their relatives had died. The Toronto District School Board said at least one of its employees had also lost a family member.
In a statement, the board said it was "heartbroken" and had brought in social workers to help those affected.
One of the students who died was identified as Maya Zibaie, a Grade 10 student at Northern Secondary School in Toronto. In a letter to parents, the school's principal says Zibaie was new to Canada and excited about her future.
"Maya was kind, happy and well-liked by her peers," Adam Marshall wrote. "Maya will be sorely missed. Our entire school community is in shock and some of our students are understandably upset."
Meanwhile, the York Region District School Board north of Toronto said it was aware of several students killed in the crash, but did not provide further details.
The Ontario Secondary School Teachers' Federation, which represents public high school teachers, also said one of its employees died in the crash.
A dental office in Aurora, Ont., said one of its dentists and her daughter were killed in the crash. E & E Dentistry said Parisa Eghbalian was travelling with her daughter Reera Esmaeilion when the plane went down.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published Jan. 8, 2020.
Liam Casey and Paola Loriggio, The Canadian Press