BY ANDREA SAENZ
The Harvard Law community returned from spring break last week to difficult news: the death of 2L Shirin Shakir, 24, in a whitewater rafting accident in Peru on March 31. Several HLS students attended her funeral on April 4 in New York. Brown University senior Alison Michener, 21, also died in the accident.
Shakir was one of a group of students who traveled to Peru for spring break. On the last day of the trip, the group took a half-day trip down the Vilcanota River. The raft capsized near rapids, turning the passengers out into the river. Brendan Cooney, 2L, told Newsday that the guide pulled him back into the raft, and together with another passenger, searched for the missing passengers.
“The boat was spinning and out of control,” Cooney said. “The girls in the water started to disappear.” One passenger safely caught onto a rock on the riverbank, but Shakir was not so lucky. “We caught up to Shirin and pulled her out of the water,” said Cooney. “But it was too late.”
Shakir’s death was one of a shocking five deaths that have occurred in a matter of weeks on whitewater rafting trips in the Cusco, Peru area. A 20-year old woman died in an accident March 23rd, and two tourists from Switzerland died rafting in the same region on April 5. Locals put part of the blame on an unusually heavy rainy season. “That part of the river is still unsafe to raft,” said an employee of SAS Travel, the touring group Shakir and her friends were with. The Tourism Ministry in Cusco has imposed a ban on rafting on the river, which all 15 local rafting companies agreed to on Friday. The territorial police have also ordered an investigation into the accident.
Shirin Shakir graduated from Williams College in 2003, and had worked summer internships with Senator Hillary Clinton and the Legal Aid Society of New York. She spent last summer as a summer associate with the firm Kramer Levin, where she helped win asylum for a persecuted Togolese woman. Shakir was an active member of several groups at HLS, including the Law School Council and the International Law Society, and was a committee chair for the Public Interest Auction her 1L year. Shakir graced the pages of the Record the week before her death in pictures from the Audiophiles’ Spring into Break Music Festival.
Shakir’s death leaves behind many grieving friends and family, determined to remember her warmly. “She was very humble, yet smart and beautiful,” said Khadija Shakir, Shirin’s mother. “She was picture-perfect,” said her brother, Taasha Shakir. “Shirin’s absence leaves me with a huge hole in my heart,” said longtime friend Lidia Rekas, who pledged to dedicate her upcoming performance in the Ironman Triathalon to the memory of Shakir.
“Shirin was a wonderful, vibrant, intelligent person,” said Cooney, “the type of person who makes life more enjoyable for other people just by being herself. Every day at HLS was better if Shirin was in it.”
The law school plans to hold a memorial in the coming weeks. Friends and family have set up a message board at www.remembershirin.com for pictures, news stories, and shared memories of Shakir’s life.