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The Fort Collins Coloradoan
Tuesday, 8 March, 2005

Omar Mehdawi

Teen's Death Brings Sadness, Insight To Rocky Students

Teen's death brings sadness, insight to Rocky students

By Courtney Lingle
and Kevin Duggan

Students at Rocky Mountain High School grappled Monday with the loss of a classmate and friend remembered for his athleticism, humor and wit.

Along with their grief, friends of 17-year-old Omar Mehdawi wore terrycloth headbands embroidered with "Omar #1" as a tribute to the high school senior many had known since grade school.

Omar died Saturday from injuries he suffered in a Feb. 27 snow-tubing accident at Rocky Mountain National Park.

"He was good at anything he wanted to be good at," Rocky senior Eddie Harris said. Shorter than most classmates, Omar excelled in sports, including indoor soccer and basketball.

The high school senior was tubing with friends from the Islamic Center of Fort Collins near Bear Lake when he hit a tree, friends said.

Airlifted to Poudre Valley Hospital with severe head trauma, Omar spent a week in a coma before he died about 3 p.m. on Saturday. A traditional Islamic burial followed at sundown just a few hours later.

While deeply saddened by their loss, family members said Monday they accept what happened to Omar as God's will.

"We strongly believe that Omar is in a better place," said his mother, Iman El Kiweri. "This is a principle of our Islamic faith ... we have to be patient when our beloved dies because this is the way to paradise. ... We miss him in this life, but we know we all die, and after that, we will meet again and be together in eternity.

"This life is nothing. This is a station we are passing through."

His father, Saleh Mehdawi, said he appreciates the support the family has received from the tightly knit Islamic community and the community as a whole.

Many of Omar's classmates and teachers from the schools he attended - Bennett Elementary, Blevins Junior High and Rocky Mountain - visited the hospital and have come by the house to express condolences, he said.

Mehdawi said he plans to visit Rocky today to express his gratitude and to assure students and staff members the family is bearing up under the weight of the tragedy.

"We need to accept this," he said. "You can do nothing except by the will of God."

Omar was born Aug. 1, 1987, at PVH. Survivors include his parents; a brother, Mansor, 8; and three sisters, Fahtima, 16, Raja, 14, and Marian, 11. "He was a very loving person who cared for everybody," El Kiweri said.

He was easygoing and helpful around the house, she said, and often took care of his brother and sisters.

Science teacher Jeff Bibbey said Omar was as determined in the classroom as he was on the basketball court.

"He was always challenging himself. He had to work hard for his success," Bibbey said, noting that Omar had planned to pursue a degree in electrical engineering at Colorado State University. "He had an interest in applying science to practical use."

Rocky Mountain students are leaning on faculty and on each other for support as they cope with their loss.

"This is the most confused I've ever been," Omar's friend Eric Price said. "Sometimes I'm OK, then I go home and just break down."

The students said the headbands, which they are giving away in exchange for donations to be given to the Islamic Center in Omar's name, have brought them together and made them feel less helpless.

"I think the kids have done remarkably well," physical education teacher Mike Dyer said. "It always shocks me to see how resilient they are in times of struggle."

Dyer and Rocky principal Tom Lopez said Omar's death has been a learning experience for many students and staff who were unfamiliar with the Islamic culture and traditions.

"It has given the kids an opportunity to have some insight on cultural differences - how we in the West deal with things differently," Dyer said. "I think maybe they're seeing a little more insight into Omar than what they had a chance to see before."

MEHDAWI FRIENDS: Friends of Omar Mehdawi, 17, a Rocky Mountain student who died after a sledding accident, wear headbands made in his honor. They are, from left, front row, Eli Beck-Gifford, 17, Ben Robinson, 18; middle row, C.J. Spitz, 18, Ozzie Owens, 17, and Tyler Meyer, 18; back row, Patrick Terry, 18, and Eric Price, 18.

Want to help?

Students at Rocky Mountain High School are giving away headbands in exchange for a donation in Omar Mehdawi's memory.

A "board-break" event from 2 to 4 p.m. Saturday at ATA Family Martial Arts, 2531 S. Shields St., also will raise money in Omar's memory. Participants will learn to break a board with their hand for a donation of $5 per board.

At the family's request, all fund-raisers will benefit the Islamic community in Fort Collins.

Donations in Omar Mehdawi's name may be sent to:
The Islamic Center of Fort Collins
900 Peterson St.
Fort Collins, CO 80524.

Originally published March 8, 2005

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