Students and staff at a St. Paul high school are remembering someone they describe as an extraordinary student, who died in an accident.
In his 19 years Medard Prosper had already endured more challenges than most people experience in an entire lifetime: civil war in his African homeland, the loss of his parents and three siblings, relocating to a new country.
Those who knew Prosper said he never let that get him down.
Minnesota State Patrol officials are not sure what happened to Prosper Thursday night on the Mendota Bridge near Fort Snelling.
Witnesses say his car blew its left front tire. Police say Prosper was still driving at 50 to 60 miles per hour when he opened the door and either leaned out or started to jump out. They're still not certain. But as Prosper tumbled out, his foot became caught and he was run over by his own vehicle.
State Patrol officials say Prosper was not driving legally. He held only a drivers permit. Permit holders are required by law to have a licensed driver in the car with them. But Prosper was driving alone.
News of his death hit hard this morning at Highland Park Senior High School in St. Paul where Prosper was a senior.
Principal Winston Tucker said the fact that Prosper escaped a civil war in Africa only to die under these circumstances, makes his loss even more tragic.
"His life was cut short when he went through some great lengths to come to the United States," Tucker said. "And to have his freedom and to take his education very seriously and then to lose his life in a freak accident — in a car accident — it's just unfair. It's sad."
In 2007, Prosper's parents were killed during civil war in the Democratic Republic of Congo.
To escape the war he and his five brothers and sisters walked 500 miles to a refugee camp in Tanzania. At age 14, Prosper was the youngest to survive the trek. Two of his younger siblings died along the way from malnutrition and disease. Another died at the camp. He and his two older brothers lived in the camp for three years
Then the U.N. helped Prosper and his brothers flee to America. He settled in Minnesota about two years ago.
He devoted himself to his studies in his new home.
Before going to high school in Highland Park, Prosper attended LEAP High School, a school for students learning English.
Principal Rose Santos remembers him as both studious and friendly.
"He always came dressed to school in an Oxford shirt and a tie and with his shoes all polished," Santos said. "He was just a really professional student. He was really a sweet person. He was always smiling."
Santos saw Prosper just two days ago, when Prosper stopped by his old school to do some research for a project.
Another Highland Park student from Africa, Adetutu Adebowale remembers first seeing Prosper in the school halls a few months ago. She wanted to get to know him since they were both from Africa.
"We had lunch together one day. He told me many things about him," Adebowale said. "He was a kind loving person and really hard working."
That hard work helped Prosper earn recognition from the Optimist Club of St. Paul which awarded him a $1,500 college scholarship last fall. A picture taken that day shows Prosper holding a certificate. He's dressed in his trademark Oxford shirt and tie, a huge smile stretched across his face.
One of Prosper's teachers, Sarah Schmidt de Carranza, said he planned to attend college and then start a group to help others who face the situation he escaped.
"When he grew up was he wanted to make a non-governmental organization to help out children from war-torn nations like himself. He wanted to give back to that part of the world," de Carranza said.
Highland Park High School is planning a memorial for Prosper. Officials said they would like to hold a fundraiser to help out an organization like the one Prosper hoped to start.
EDITOR'S NOTE: An earlier version of this story incorrectly identified LEAP High School as a charter school. LEAP is a part of the St. Paul Public School Alternative Learning Center program.