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HEWLETT, N.Y. (AP) — A U.S. Naval Academy midshipman killed in this week's Amtrak derailment was a humble and respectful rising star who inspired others and "put everyone before himself," mourners said Friday at his funeral.
Approximately 150 classmates of Justin Zemser's from the academy in Annapolis, Maryland, joined family members and students from Zemser's New York City high school for the 20-year-old's funeral on Long Island.
The sophomore was traveling from the academy to his home in the Rockaways section of Queens when he was killed in Tuesday's derailment in Philadelphia. He was one of eight people killed.
"My entire school community is devastated, the community of Rockaway is devastated, the Naval Academy is devastated," said Andrew Wettstein, a biology teacher at Beach Channel High School, from where Zemser graduated. "He was a light."
Zemser's commanding officer at the Naval Academy, Marine Capt. Brandy Soublet, said before the traditional Jewish funeral service began at the Boulevard-Riverside-Hewlett Chapel that the one word to describe Zemser was "humble."
"For how talented he was morally, mentally, physically you would never know it. He was just so humble," she said.
Aurora Perez, 17, who was a freshman when Zemser was a senior at Beach Channel High School, said Zemser often returned to speak to students.
"He just told everyone to, you know, reach for the stars and never give up on your dreams," she said.
Perez said everyone at Beach Channel looked up to Zemser, including teachers.
"He was loving, caring," she said. "He put everyone before himself. ... He just cared about other people instead of his own life. If he could save anyone on that train, I know he would have."
Zemser was a member of the Navy sprint football team, the Jewish Midshipman Club and the Semper Fi Society, a Marine Corps club.
Cantor Chaim Shindler, who said he gave a young Zemser bar mitzvah lessons, described his former student as a "young man that lived his life, every moment of his young life, to the fullest and made many friends and connections to people from all walks of life."
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