Even at 71, Spanish teacher and department chair Emma Cabrera was known for arriving at school an hour and a half before school started each day, opening her colorful classroom early to students who needed extra help. When she didn't show up Friday morning, colleagues knew something was wrong.
"The staff member who always parks next to her came in and said, 'Emma's not here, where's Emma,' because she never misses work," T.C Williams High School Executive Associate Principal Tammy Ignacio told News 4.
The terrible news soon reached T.C. Williams' Minnie Howard campus. Cabrera was killed in a bizarre accident outside her Annandale home while backing out of the driveway around 5:30 a.m. Friday, Fairfax County police said. They surmise Cabrera must have jumped out to retrieve something, and was run over by the still-rolling SUV. A neighbor found her body.
"At this point it appears to be just a freak, tragic accident," Fairfax Police spokesperson Lucy Caldwell told News4.
Cabrera, a Cuban American, had taught in Alexandria for 12 years. A bright and eye-catching classroom greeted Cabrera's ninth graders each day, rich with decorations Cabrera made to reinforce Spanish. Added today, in English, was this message written by a grieving student: "I love you Ms. Cabrera. Rest in Peace."
"She had a love of teaching," Ignacio told News 4. "A love of people and a caring heart."
Her dedication was evident in video of her taken just last month. Cabrera transformed her classroom in a Spanish-only restaurant. She invited school administrators as guests, and as the mock dinner wound down, pulled them up to dance.
"She was just a wonderful person," Ignacio said. "The minute children walked into her classroom, you're going to learn Spanish. Every day came full of life."