Xuezhou "Julia" Nan, 20, of Cary, was trying to get home at about 5:15 p.m. when a large oak tree fell across the front yard of the Chi Omega sorority house, in the 300 block of East Franklin Street, and landed on top of her on the sidewalk.
"She stopped and told us there was a storm coming and she was trying to get home, and then, all of the sudden, I heard a really loud cracking," said Adriana Lorenzini, 15, who lives nearby.
"I’d been really close to the tree when it fell, and I couldn’t understand why she’d been the one under it and I had’t," Lorenzini said.
A family got out of their car on Franklin Street and began pulling branches off Nan and called 911 for help, she said. A physician who was jogging in the area also stopped to try to help.
"I think she was pushed backwards really hard, and she fell really hard and hit her head on the brick," Lorenzini said, adding that she felt powerless to help Nan.
Someone pulled Nan from under the tree before paramedics arrived, but she was unresponsive, Orange County EMS Director Jim Groves said. She was pronounced dead at UNC Hospitals a short time later.
"It was hard for me last night," Lorenzini said.
Nan, who double-majored in psychology and biology, was a graduate of Panther Creek High School in Cary.
"Julia was a very sweet girl," said Diego Malaver, a friend since high school. "She always had a smile on her face."
Another high school and UNC friend, Eric Schafer, called her "a positive spirit" who was both brilliant and modest.
"You just don't expect anything bad to happen to someone like this," Schafer said.
"It is so hard to lose one so young, especially in such a terrible, random and tragic event. I hope that all of you, Julia's fellow Tar Heels, will keep her family and friends in your thoughts at this sad time," Chancellor Holden Thorp said in a message Friday to students and staff.
Thorp said counselors were available on campus to help people cope with the death.
"Life is just really fragile," said Mollie Martin, a rising senior at UNC.
Martin said one of her friends saw the tree hit Nan. "It just kind of puts things in perspective that anything can happen," she said.
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