"She always had a smile on her face. A very polite, charming and pretty girl."
This is how Bhupat Bhai remembers Minal Panchal, who was among those killed during the shooting rampage at Virginia Tech University campus on April 16.
Bhupat Bhai and his wife are residents of Park View apartments in Borivali, northwestern Mumbai, where the Panchal family owns an apartment on the fifth floor.
"We were hopeful that Minal was safe. But our worst fears came true when her death was confirmed. She was such a bright and lovely child you know A terrible tragedy," he adds.
The extent of goodwill that this 26-year-old enjoyed in the five-storied building was evident from sorrow in the residents' voices.
Minal's parents -- Late Hiralal Panchal and Hansaben Panchal relocated to Borivali in 1988. Neighbours say Meenal was a shy and introverted person but a charming personality.
"She never used to speak out of turn. Most of the times she kept to herself but she never used to forget to greet people she knew. She always had a charming 'hello uncle' whenever we used to bump into each other," remembers Ganpath P Bhivandkar.
The Bhivandkar family goes back a long time with the Panchals. According to them Minal's father Late Hiralal Panchal was a very active participant in all activities of the housing society.
"He was one of my best friends. Our families are also very close. We used to have small family sittings every Sunday either in my apartment or theirs," says Bhivandkar.
The residents are also concerned about Minal's mother who according to them had a tough time adjusting to the death of her husband three years back. It was Minal who stood by her mother and helped her to come in terms with reality. Hiralal's death came as a shock to the family after he died three days after a 'successful' heart surgery.
Mrs Bhivandkar told rediff.com, "Minal's mother completely shattered and if it was not for Minal and her support Hansaben would not have recovered. The mother-daughter also bonded very strongly during this period. We are concerned and praying that Kavita (the Panchals other daughter) and her kin will be able to console her."
Some residents tried calling up Minal's relatives in the US but were told that both Minal's mother and sister were not in a state to answer the call. This has deepened their fears.
"Minal's mother is a very sensitive person. I don't know how she is going to handle this," says another resident.
Neighbours still remember that the Panchal sisters were always a step ahead of the rest of the children . Rupa Ajmera, another resident, told this correspondent that she used to always tell her children to be well behaved like Minal.
"She was very ambitious and always knew what to do with her life. She was doing her higher studies in architecture. But we were sure that she would come back to Mumbai," said another resident.
Minal did her schooling at Our Lady of Remedy School in Poisnur, near her home and then graduated in architecture from Rizvi College of Architecture in suburban Bandra. After a brilliant stint at Rizvi, she secured admission at Virginia Tech University for a Masters in Business Design.
The faculty members at Rizvi College still remember Minal for her academic excellence and brilliance.
"A sad demise. We have lost an extremely gifted, creative and sensitive person in the field of architecture" Anand Acharya, a lecturer at the college, said of his former student's death.
Akthar Chauhan, the director of the college, is in a state of shock as it was he who recommended Virginia Tech University to Minal when she expressed her desire to pursue higher education abroad. Minal was one of his star pupils and she had procured the highest marks for her final year design thesis which was on the structure of an ideal children's museum.
"I was her guide for the thesis. It is still one of the best thesis I have ever seen in my career. Unlike other students Minal submitted a number of sketches along with comparison on facilities available here and in the West. It was just what was expected from a hard working person like her," recollects Chauhan.
"She was also a very good organiser. This was revealed to me when I accompanied her batch on a study tour to Rajasthan," says Acharya. He also pointed out that Minal was always oozing with self confidence which was the prime reason behind her academic success.
A special prayer session is also being organised at the college on Thursday afternoon to pray for her departed soul.
The college authorities feel that a fitting tribute to Minal would be to build a children's museum at plot already allotted in Borivali as per Minal's design, which they feel is world class.
According to Akthar Chauhan "This would be a fitting tribute to this young architect whose brilliant career was cut short so abruptly."