Samuel Castañeda could make anyone laugh, his friend Alison Murphy said.
Murphy, a junior biochemistry and history major at the University of Maryland, swam with Castañeda in the summer and on their high school swim team. She said that even while their coach would tell them to stop goofing off during swim practice, he couldn’t help but smile at Castañeda’s antics.
Castañeda, who was a sophomore information science major at this university, died May 9 at the age of 19 in a car accident on Clopper Road in Germantown. The cause of the crash is not currently known. His loved ones remember him as a dedicated friend who was renowned for his sense of humor and carefree approach to life.
Castañeda grew up in Germantown and went to Northwest High School.
Murphy said he was both a talented athlete and gifted student.
“I remember in high school, he’s a year younger than me and he was taking the same courses as me,” Murphy said. “He’s like, ‘Oh, this is so easy, I don’t even have to try,’ and I was like, ‘Sam! That’s so unfair. This class is not easy!”
At this university, Castañeda was a member of the Theta Chi fraternity.
“While this is a tremendously sad time for his family and friends, we hope all will remember him as the lighthearted and spirited man he was,” the fraternity chapter said in a statement on their Instagram.
Castañeda’s family and friends gathered Friday at Great Seneca Elementary School in Germantown, holding mismatched candles and sharing memories of him as the sun set. His family also hosted a funeral service, burial service and celebration of life Saturday.
“Sam was the light of his family’s lives – full of jokes and fun and always keeping the party going. If you knew Sam, you know exactly the type of guy he was. He was and will continue to be amazing,” Fatima Diaz, a family friend who led a fund for funeral expenses after Castañeda’s death, said.
Castañeda was universally praised for his sense of humor and willingness to help others.
“Sam was known for his kind-heartedness and infectious smile. He was greatly respected for his determination and strong work ethic – and has left our community in mourning,” Keith Marzullo, this university’s information studies college dean, said in a statement.
Murphy said he always had the biggest smile on his face and could be found in the middle of the dance floor talking to people at any given party.
Rhoman Elvis, Castañeda’s childhood friend who attends Colgate University, said that even at a birthday party they went to in early elementary school, Castañeda’s cheerful spirit shined through. According to Elvis, Castañeda was like the “Energizer bunny” because he was always bouncing around, joking and making people laugh.
When Castañeda wasn’t spending time with loved ones, he enjoyed running. In addition to swimming competitively in high school, he also ran on Northwest’s cross-country team.
Elvis found peace during the COVID-19 pandemic while going on runs with Castañeda. Elvis thought up challenging routes, and Castañeda was always game. An easy four-mile run could turn into a nine-mile trail runs as the friends pushed their limits together, Elvis said.
Elijah Thompson, a sophomore information systems major at this university, met Castañeda in middle school and went to Northwest with him, where they became friends in gym class after finding they were some of the fastest runners in the class. Thompson joined the cross country team at Castañeda’s suggestion.
Thompson and Castañeda also took Spanish class together during their sophomore year of high school. Castañeda would often correct the pair’s Spanish teacher because he knew the language so well, Thompson said. Castañeda had a distinctive, hilarious side-eye that was especially evident during Spanish class, Thompson remembered.
“My face hurt, he was just so funny. It was like a literal light of sunshine every time,” Thompson said. ”It was side-eyes left and right.”
Thompson praised Castañeda’s genuine care for others, saying he always wanted a real answer when he asked his friends how they were doing.
Amid their shock and disbelief, Castañeda’s loved ones are aiming to embody his carefree spirit and compassion for others to honor him.
“He didn’t take life too seriously, and I think I’m definitely guilty of doing so. It was nice being around him and having that reminder that it’s okay,” Murphy said. “Whatever hardships there are, it’ll get better.”