ROCKAWAY BEACH — Two close friends of 20-year-old Justin Zemser, who was killed in Tuesday's Amtrak derailment, will fly home for his funeral thanks to a successful online fundraiser.
Nkozi Stewart, a student at the U.S Air Force Academy in Colorado, and Christopher Carr, who attends the University of Southern California, were part of a close-knit group of friends with Zemser who played football and went to school together in Rockaway.
Melisa Williams, a friend and former classmate at Channel View School for Research, set up the GoFundMe page Wednesday afternoon in time for Zemser's funeral, which is scheduled for Friday at 11:30 a.m. in Hewlett, Long Island.
"Please, these boys have lost a great friend it's only right that they see Z one last time," Williams said on the page, referring to Zemser.
By Thursday, the fundraiser had surpassed the goal of $1,800 and raised more than $2,100. The extra money will go towards a memorial plaque in Zemser's memory at the high school field, Williams said.
The tight group, which includes Stewart, Carr, Zemser, Breland Archbold and Folorunso Fatukasi — who go to school on the east coast — were profiled in a 2013 Daily News feature on their success and friendship.
They had all grown up together and were accepted into top colleges across the country, but vowed to stay close.
“We’re in this for life,” Stewart told the newspaper.
Carr, who spoke to DNAinfo Thursday before boarding his flight from California, said he was amazed by the response to the fundraiser, which was allowing him to say one last goodbye to his "brother," who he credits with helping him get into college.
He attends the University of Southern California on a scholarship through the Posse Foundation, and the final part of the application was due after Hurricane Sandy — when he didn't have any electricity or access to the Internet, he said.
But Zemser was staying at his uncle's house on Long Island in those weeks after the storm and had both.
"He spent maybe about three to four hours with me on the phone that night as I dictated my application to him, and he submitted on my behalf," Carr said.
"It's hard to choose an exact memory because we have so many, but that one is among the top."