NEW YORK (JTA) – Justin Zemser, a Jewish sophomore at the U.S. Naval Academy, was one of seven people killed when an Amtrak train derailed in Philadelphia Tuesday night.
Zemser, 20, who was vice-president of the academy’s Jewish Midshipmen Club and a wide receiver of the school’s sprint football team, was on his way home to the Far Rockaway section of Queens when the train derailed.
“He was wonderful. Absolutely wonderful,” Zemser’s mother, Susan Zemser, told reporters Wednesday outside her home, NBC News reported. “Everybody looked up to my son and there are just no other words I could say.”
The Amtrak accident was not the first disaster Zemser, an only child, had experienced firsthand. Hurricane Sandy damaged his school in 2012, when he was a high school senior, the Daily News reported.
On her Facebook page, Susan Zemser posted several pictures of Justin, including one taken on a trip to Israel.
The family released a statement mourning “a loving son, nephew and cousin who was very community-minded” and saying his death “has shocked us all in the worst way.”
Navy Secretary Ray Mabus called Zemser a “crucial member” of the institution, according to NBC News.
Rachel Jacobs, another Jewish passenger on the New York-bound train, is still missing. Her mother, Gilda Jacobs, is a former Michigan state senator.