The death of 18-year-old tourist Alyssa Elsman, who authorities say was hit in Times Square along with nearly two dozen other pedestrians on Thursday, has stunned her family.
“We’re shocked,” says one relative, who asked to remain unidentified. “I mean, at first we didn’t believe this was all real until I got online and looked up.”
Elsman’s family tells PEOPLE she, her 13-year-old sister and their mother were walking through the bustling tourist destination at the heart of New York City shortly before noon when a2009 Honda Accord mounted the sidewalk and struck the siblings and 21 others.
Minutes before her death, Elsman shared a picture of Times Square on her Instagram story. She also appeared to have visited before, posting a picture of herself at the intersection of 47th Street and Broadway in April 2016
Elsman, a native of Southwest Michigan, died at the scene. It is unclear at this time what condition her sister is in, though four of the injured are in critical condition, according to officials.
Elsman also has a 16-year-old brother, the relative says, but he is believed not to have been at the scene.
“She was a very loving, loving little girl,” the family member recalls of Elsman.
“She looked out for her younger siblings would always play with them, they argued.”
The relative says Elsman’s father is on his way to N.Y.C. from Portage, Michigan.
“It’s disturbing,” the relative says. “I’m still trying to piece it all together.”
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Police said Thursday afternoon that a suspect has been arrested in connection with the deadly crash: 26-year-old Richard Rojas, a former member of the U.S. Navy.
“Preliminary investigation reveals that Rojas has two arrests … for DWI,” N.Y.C. Police Commissioner James P. O’Neill said at a Thursday news conference.
Rojas was being tested for alcohol and drugs, authorities said.
It was not immediately clear if he has been formally charged, entered a plea or retained an attorney.
Police say Rojas drove onto the sidewalk on the west side of Seventh Avenue and 42nd Street and then continued at a high speed to 45th Street, striking pedestrians as he drove. His car came to a stop when it collided with a metal obstruction.
“We all feel deeply right now for those who are injured and for their families and particular the family of the young woman who was lost,” Mayor Bill de Blasio said Thursday. “Our prayers are with her family and all those who are right now suffering because of this horrible incident.”