It was a Wednesday afternoon when human biology junior Brandon Halmaghi was in Ann Arbor touring the University of Michigan School of Dentistry. Just four hours later, he would be back in East Lansing, grappling with his best friend’s death.
Around 1 p.m. that day, Halmaghi received a message from his neighbor.
The apartment Halmaghi and finance junior Abhi Shah shared was unlocked and surrounded by ambulances and police, the neighbor said. Halmaghi tried tracking Abhi, his roommate of three years and friend of six, on the Find My Friends app and found his phone’s location was at Sparrow Hospital.
“Immediately, I knew something was wrong,” Halmaghi said.
He drove from Ann Arbor to the apartment and was greeted with syringes, medical gloves, incubators and no sign of Abhi. He went to Sparrow Hospital in search of Abhi, but had no luck.
“The hospital kept telling me that they had no record of Abhi Shah in the hospital,” he said. “And I kept showing them my phone, that his phone was at Sparrow Hospital and they kept telling me that they couldn’t help me.”
Around 5 p.m., family and friends who had gathered in East Lansing received a call. The police asked them to come down to the station.
“That’s when they told us the news and told us that we had to go to the hospital, and we ended up seeing him in the morgue,” Halmaghi said. “And that’s how it went downhill from there.”
Abhi died on Nov. 23 for reasons currently unknown, but his family and friends are ensuring his legacy lives on. A candlelight vigil for Abhi took place last Tuesday, a foundation to help orphans is being created in his name and the people whose lives he impacted are speaking up to bring his life’s story to light.
Growing up in Novi
Halmaghi met Abhi on the first day of high school in 2011, and from the moment they met, they had a connection.
“I looked up to him, he looked up to me, we both motivated each other to be the best at everything we do,” Halmaghi said. “Abhi and I were not only best friends, we were brothers. We hung out everyday after school.”
In high school, Abhi’s favorite classes were Spanish and business classes. Abhi was involved in Distributive Education Clubs of America, ice hockey, recreational basketball and a season of lacrosse.
“A week before lacrosse tryouts, all of our friends were saying how Abhi didn’t really engage in any of the Novi sports, so he picked up a lacrosse stick and he made the team a week later,” Halmaghi said, laughing. “Although he wasn’t that great, he was there, he supported everyone and he was just a ball of energy for everyone.”
This energy is something Abhi had prior to high school as well. Abhi was outgoing from an early age, his father, Pratik Shah said.
Abhi and international relations junior Veer Shah had been friends for almost 18 years, Veer Shah said. When he found out Abhi died, he was in disbelief.
“I actually ran up the street and just crouched down and started crying because I couldn’t really fathom it,” Veer Shah said. “But the only rational reaction to that news was for me to just start crying. But in my mind, I was still in disbelief. ... How could such a focal point in our lives be gone?”
When they were 8 years old, Veer Shah’s younger brother was born. Abhi played with Veer Shah’s younger brother constantly, and as a result, Veer Shah’s brother’s first word was “Abhi.”
“He called everybody ‘Abhi.’ For a period there, there was nothing else but that word,” Veer Shah said. “That just goes to show that no matter the age, no matter your personality, there was going to be a way that Abhi broke through and made a difference in your life.”
Civil engineering junior Pranav Shah knew Abhi since they were born, he said. At MSU, both Abhi and Pranav Shah joined the Coalition of Indian Undergraduate Students and performed in numerous shows. These shows could often become stressful, especially as the rehearsals grew longer and more intense.
“He would always manage to make sure, like, at the end of the day, everyone was just smiling and laughing and having a good time,” Pranav Shah said. “That’s just the kind of person he was. He always managed to light up the room whenever he walked in.”
When Pranav heard that Abhi had died, he was in denial, he said. At first, it was impossible for him to accept it.
“It’s so hard to just know that he’s — I’m not going to see him again. He called me on Tuesday afternoon, the day before he passed,” Pranav Shah said. “I happened to have an exam that day, so I told him, ‘Nah man, I’m sorry. I can’t hang out today.’ But little did I know that was the last time I could have seen him.”
At MSU for business
When Abhi was younger, he wanted to be just like his dad, who is a financial adviser. For Halloween as a child, Abhi put on a suit and had “clients” and “appointments” and “business,” just like his father. Years later, becoming a financial adviser was still Abhi’s goal.
“He had a dream in his life — He wanted to be either a big corporate guy or he wanted to take my financial planning practice,” Pratik Shah said. “So our son was very ambitious to move forward.”
Abhi held internships in his junior and senior years of high school and was admitted into the Eli Broad Business School at MSU, Pratik Shah said.
On Nov. 1, Abhi tweeted, “Go out of your way to help someone every day, you’ll sleep better.” To go along with this mentality, Abhi’s friends and family are starting the foundation “Smiles 4 Kids,” essentially, The Abhi Shah Foundation.
Go out of your way to help someone everyday, youll sleep better— Abhi Shah (@bhishah) November 1, 2016
“The little thing that we started thinking is, ‘What made Abhi happy?’ And, you know, he always used to bring smiles, so we are in the process of establishing a foundation, the Abhi Shah Foundation, you know, Smiles 4 Kids,” Pratik Shah said.
The foundation, created by Abhi’s parents, will provide resources for orphans in need globally. The foundation is currently gathering money by selling bracelets and the goal is to start selling shirts in January. The shirts will be designed by Halmaghi. All proceeds from both products go to the foundation.
Abhi Shah’s parents want Smiles 4 Kids to be something that lasts longer than a few months. They hope to make sure it lasts for years, Pratik Shah said.
“We want to make sure we can put our hands into it, our time into it, so it’s not just collecting money, but going to those places and hugging those kids, and then you feel like you’re hugging your child at that time and hopefully that love is coming back,” Pratik said.
Life without Abhi
As a testament to Abhi’s character, 500 people showed up at a candlelight vigil held a week after he died and 1,200 showed up to his funeral.
It has been a little more than two weeks since Abhi’s death. For some, these two weeks have felt like years and for others they have felt like days. For Pratik Shah, every day is another day without his only child.
“We lost everything. ... We don’t know where we’ll go from here,” he said. “Being the only child and all the hope that you had — that one day Abhi would marry and we’ll have grandkids and he will take my practice — and all those dreams got shattered. It’s like, where do we go from here? And myself and my wife are asking some very hard questions. Why us? Why happen to Abhi? Why so early? And we do not have any answer from anybody. Not from God also. It’s very hard.”
But for some, Abhi’s death is a call to make changes and to live life as he did, with kindness, selflessness and spirit.
For Halmaghi, this means adopting the friendliness Abhi showed to others.
“His exuberant personality, broad smile and joyous laughter will never be forgotten,” Halmaghi said. “We are all going to miss him dearly, but I pray we will all have the strength and willpower to think positively on the amazing life that he lived and move forward with our own lives as he would want.”
For Veer Shah, this means making other people happy and developing deeper relationships.
“He made it his number one priority to make sure that everyone around him was happy, and if people around him were happy, he was happy,” Veer Shah said. “And that’s something that you really can’t fake. It’s too genuine, it’s too selfless of a quality to mimic. It’s in you or it’s not, and it was certainly in Abhi.”
For Pranav Shah, this means helping others, staying in touch with old friends, valuing each relationship in life and living every moment to the fullest.
“It seems like a daunting task, but I’ll try to make the people around me happy like he did, and that’s how he’s going to live on. The news of him passing is a shock to everyone, but I know he is at peace now. I know he’s still here around us giving us the strength to move on,” Pranav Shah said. “I hate that this was my wake up call, but after his passing, I’ve been talking to people that I used to be close with but lost touch with over the years.”
When Abhi Shah is remembered, he will be remembered for his enthusiasm and energy. He will be remembered for the deep connections he made with others. His personality and character will live on through friends, family and those who adopt his same attitude toward life.
Veer Shah shared a quote Abhi's girlfriend, Maya Jacob, said during her speech at the vigil.
“Abhi lived more in his 20 years of life than most people do in their whole lifetime,” Veer Shah said. “That is his legacy. The family. The loyalty. The experiences that he made sure other people had. That’s his legacy, and he’s a person that will never, ever be forgotten.”