A San Diego woman is remembering her cousin who was recently married and on his way home to Canada when his plane was shot down by Iranian officials.
Pantea Khodami's younger cousin, 26-year-old Arash Pourzarabi, was married just two weeks ago on New Year's Day in Tehran.
Pourzarabi and his new bride were on their way home to Canada when their Ukrainian Airlines plane was shot down by Iranian officials. The newlyweds, along with some of their wedding party, were among the 176 people killed last Wednesday just outside of Tehran.
Pourzarabi and his wife, Pouneh Gorji, had their ceremony in Iran because that is where most of her family lived. They were planning a second ceremony in North America.
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"My aunt (Pourzarabi's mother) was sending us pictures that day of (the wedding) because we couldn’t be there and it was also really emotional not being able to be there," Khodami said.
"We were just very looking forward for them to come back, so we could see them newlywed couple, and celebrate with them," she said.
Khodami is six years older than her cousin and remembers their childhood well.
"He had lighter eyes and blond curly hair when he was born," she remembered.
But it's his academic career that she wants people to remember about Pourzarabi, along with his loving, kind-hearted personality and his ability to cheer people up when they were hurting.
"The other day, when I was crying, I thought to myself, now is the time that I really need him the most because he always sort of brought a lot of positive energy, regardless of whatever situation he was in," she said.
Pourzarabi was studying for a doctorate degree in artificial intelligence at the University of Alberta in Canada alongside his wife who was studying liver disease using ultrasound technology, Khodami said.
"Arash had just gotten results from his work and he was about to come back and publish a paper," Khodami said. "It just breaks my heart that he won't be able to do this. He won’t get to go on his honeymoon."
Khodami's sister and mother sat next to her in tears and still in disbelief.
"He was always super passionate about human health, having an impact on people and life. When I zoom in and look at myself, I am so sad that I lost my cousin but when I zoom out, I am so sad that we lost someone with his heart, with his caliber," she said. "He just had so much to offer, not just personally, but to the world."
She said Pourzarabi's mother and his family in Tehran has tried to remove themselves from the daily news. Khodami did not want her cousin and his new wife to be remembered for being killed in the plane crash, but instead for the loving, happy, intelligent souls they were.