Students, faculty, and community members came together for a packed memorial service at the Multi-Faith Centre on Friday for the six U of T students, and eight U of T community members overall, who died in the Ukraine International Airlines Flight 752 plane crash on January 8. Prime Minister Justin Trudeau announced the next day that Iran had mistakenly shot down the airliner, which killed all 176 passengers and crew, including 57 Canadians.
The incident occurred amidst escalating Iran-US tensions this month. Hours earlier, Iran had fired missiles into Iraq, aimed at US and allied military bases in response to the American assassination of Iranian Major General Qasem Soleimani on January 3.
“On behalf of the entire University of Toronto community, let me say first and foremost how profoundly heartbroken we are,” said President Meric Gertler. “We extend our deepest condolences to the families, the friends, the classmates, and to the teachers of those who lost their lives.”
Mojtaba Abbasnezhad, 26, was a first-year PhD student in the Department of Electrical & Computer Engineering.
Pooya Poolad, a friend of Abbasnezhad, wrote to The Varsity, “He was one of the most talented and intelligent guys I knew.” They had known each other since they studied at the same university for their bachelor’s degrees and reconnected when Abbasnezhad came to U of T.
In the same department, Poolad and Abbasnezhad worked on the same floor in the Bahen Centre for Information Technology and saw each other frequently. “Right before he [left] for Iran, we were sitting at my apartment, planning and dreaming about the future, and thinking what should we do for our PhD,” Poolad wrote.
Mohammad Asadi Lari
Mohammad Asadi Lari, 23, was a second-year joint MD and PhD student in the Faculty of Medicine, and was in the crash along with his sister, Zeynab.
He co-founded and served as the managing director of an organization called STEM Fellowship, a non-profit organization that helps provide opportunities for youth in STEM.
Sacha Noukhovitch, founder and President of STEM Fellowship, wrote that Mohammad “worked tirelessly to develop the organization’s mission and vision.”
STEM Fellowship’s statement describes him as a “visionary,” and adds that “he was also a compassionate leader who went above and beyond – fostering a strong community, developing others’ potential, and inspiring them to unite around a common cause with his humanitarian ethos.” He also co-founded the Canadian Association of Physician Innovators and Entrepreneurs.
“In a program full of stars, Mo shined brightly,” said Professor Nicola Jones of the Faculty of Medicine. She remembered him as someone with broad interests, who was “very passionate about being a clinician-scientist.”
Zeynab Asadi Lari
Zeynab Asadi Lari, 21, was in her fourth year pursuing a bachelor of science at UTM. Matineh Panah, a U of T student who spoke at the memorial service, described Zeynab as “full of life, dreams, hopes,” adding that “she wanted to be a doctor.”
Zeynab also worked at STEM Fellowship, creating its human resources department, and spearheading the creation of a branch of STEM Fellowship at UTM. She was the founder and president of the UTM branch of STEM Fellowship.
The statement on behalf of STEM Fellowship describes her as a “creative, hard-working, committed young leader who made invaluable contributions to STEM Fellowship.”
Zeynab was a health and mental health advocate, serving as a mental health network coordinator for the Youth Mental Health Association, and a Youth Member for Young Canadians Roundtable on Health. “I know if Zeynab was here, she would want me to advocate for mental health,” said Panah.
Mohammad Amin Jebelli
Mohammad Amin Jebelli was a graduate health science student in translational research and a physician.
Jebelli was recognized for his contributions to an online forum for helping international students adjust to international life. “Every time someone would post a question, a concern, he would constantly reply any hour of the night,” said Panah. “He would offer guidance and his help in any form he can… He was just always willing to help.”
He was also remembered for his “kindness to other students” by Professor Joseph Ferenbok of the translational research program. “There are hundreds of people whose lives he touched that recognize him.”
Mohammad Amin Beiruti
Mohammad Amin Beiruti, 29, was a PhD student in the Department of Computer Science.
When Panah spoke with Beiruti’s colleagues, they reported that he was soft-spoken and kind. “He was very careful on how he treated others. He talked with kindness and grace.”
Panah shared an anecdote that when Beiruti could not attend an international research conference, he had a friend present his work for him. “He was passionate about advancing technology.”
“He cared about the impact of his research and wanted to make the world a better place,” said Professor Yashar Ganjali.
Mohammad Saleheh, 32, was a PhD student in computer science. Saleheh was in the crash with his wife, Zahra Hasani, a prospective U of T student herself. They had immigrated to Canada only a year and a half ago.
“When I asked about Mohammad Saleheh, everyone talked about his bright mind,” said Panah. “They said he was the humblest genius they knew.”
“It was really my great privilege to know and to work with my PhD student, Mohammad Saleheh,” said Professor Eyal de Lara. They had known each other for three years, working together before Salaheh became a student of de Lara. “He was amazingly good at what he did,” said de Lara. He was also a teaching assistant, and “students really just loved him.”