Tuesday night, hundreds of mourners gathered in a New Jersey park on the eve of Samantha Josephson’s funeral to say goodbye.
They lit candles and shared memories of their friend, a college student who had been killed in South Carolina last week after police say she mistakenly got into the wrong vehicle, thinking it was an Uber ride. Hours later, she was found dead in a field by hunters, and 24-year-old Nathaniel D. Rowland has been charged in connection with her death.
Her story has gripped the country for days, but the loss was felt most acutely in Robbinsville, N.J., the town where she grew up.
“I am so thankful for the years that we had with each other, and I will miss her each and every day,” a friend, Jess Samuel, told WABC7.
Josephson will be laid to rest Wednesday in Princeton Junction, N.J. Hundreds of family and friends packed a Jewish synagogue in the area for her funeral, according to WABC7.
Josephson’s cousin Seth Josephson spoke to reporters about the pain the family was experiencing.
“The sadness that is being suffered will never end. It may wane in the future, but will always leave a hole in the hearts of [her] fun-loving, generous and kind parents and sister,” he said, according to NJ.com. “Today, they don’t know and can’t contemplate how they will think of the future.”
Her death has increased focus on how to improve the safety of ride-hailing services. One of the loudest voices in the call for change has been Josephson’s father.
“What he did, I don’t want anyone else to go through it as a parent,” Seymour Josephson said Tuesday. “We want something to change.”
The South Carolina state House, on Tuesday, introduced legislation, named in her honor, which if passed would add new safety requirements to ride-hailing vehicles.
The Samantha L. Josephson Ridesharing Safety Act would require drivers to clearly identify their ride-hailing vehicles by displaying illuminated signs when active. The signs must be visible both day and night, and are a step up from South Carolina law, which requires drivers to apply a reflective “signage or emblem” to their vehicle. The legislation also would require drivers to return the illuminated sign when they stop working for a ride-hailing app.
"I’m just sick about this,” state Rep. Seth Rose (D), one of the lawmakers who introduced the bill, told the State.
A representative from Uber, one of the most popular ride-hailing services, told a Columbia NBC affiliate that the company was “devastated” by Josephson’s death.
“Since 2017, we’ve been working with local law enforcement and college campuses across the country to educate the public about how to avoid fake rideshare drivers,” the statement said. “Everyone at Uber is devastated to hear about this unspeakable crime, and our hearts are with Samantha Josephson’s family and loved ones. We remain focused on raising public awareness about this incredibly important issue.”
The University of South Carolina, where Josephson was a senior, sent safety tips to students urging them to “be aware of their surroundings” and to “exercise best practices” when using ride-hailing services such as Uber and Lyft.
Early on Saturday, Josephson said goodbye to her friends after a night at the Bird Dog bar in Columbia, S.C. It was just past 2 a.m. when she called an Uber to take her home.
But the car she got into was not her ride, police said. Surveillance video showed her getting into a black Chevrolet Impala, which had pulled up beside her, police said.
Her friends reported her missing 12 hours later, and not long after that, two hunters found her body in a field about 70 miles from the bar where she was picked up. Autopsy results released Monday said Josephson had died of “multiple sharp force injuries.”
About 24 hours after she disappeared, police spotted a car matching the description of the one Josephson had gotten into. An officer pulled the driver over and asked him to step out of the vehicle, but the man fled. He was later apprehended.
When they inspected the car, authorities discovered antibacterial wipes, bleach, window cleaner, Josephson’s phone and blood that tests later revealed to be hers. The driver, Rowland, was arrested and charged with murder and kidnapping. He will appear in court later this month.
On Tuesday, friends and family gathered in Robbinsville chose to use the vigil to celebrate her life. They shared anecdotes and “Sammyisms,” which told of a girl who loved to sing, laugh and spend time with her friends.
“She would want us to toast her, not cry for her,” said neighbor Barb Samel, according to the Asbury Park Press. “If my family and I learned anything from Sammy it was how to laugh often, love much and to be yourself no matter who was watching.”