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Friends, professors remember junior, aspiring immigration attorney who died at 21

Courtesy of Maria Teresa Furtado

Updated: April 3, 2024, at 2:35 p.m.

Antonella Galindo Merlo, a junior majoring in international affairs and an aspiring immigration attorney, died last month in a car accident while studying abroad in Melbourne, Australia. She was 21.

Galindo was a member of Sigma Kappa sorority, pre-law fraternity Phi Alpha Delta and GW FUEGO, a Latin dance team, and interned for multiple foreign affairs organizations while studying at GW. Her friends and professors remember her as a light who cared deeply for her close friends and pushed those around her to become the best version of themselves. 

“She loved music, she loved dancing and she just really loved being alive,” junior Maria Teresa Furtado said. “Everything that she did was so magical. She always looked at the positive side of things and being around her was so energizing. It was impossible to be unhappy around her.”

Furtado was roommates with Galindo during her first, second and third years at GW. Furtado said Galindo and her would often say they were soul mates. 

“From the moment that we ever met, we were immediately best friends and told each other everything,” Furtado said.

She said Galindo was born in the District but moved to Ecuador when she was two months old, where she lived until she was 10 when her family moved to Virginia for her father’s job.

Furtado said Galindo took a gap year after high school where she spent a lot of time alone and on hikes with her dog, which sparked her interest in spirituality and Buddhism. It was one of the most fundamental years of her life in developing herself as a person, Furtado said.

“She’s also super spiritual and just has the best energy and vibes and she believed a lot in the oneness that we have with the universe and reincarnation and the cycles of life,” Furtado said. “She taught me a lot about the ego and being a good listener.”

Galindo was passionate about the intersection between international law and global issues like conservation of the environment, immigration and human rights and was working toward becoming an immigration lawyer. Before coming to GW, Galindo interned for the South American law firm FERRERE Abogados in Quito, Ecuador, according to her LinkedIn.

Furtado said Galindo wanted to become a lawyer to help people immigrating to the U.S. and would spend hours in the Milken Institute School of Public Health studying, researching and reading books. Galindo concentrated her international affairs studies on security policy and minored in psychological and brain sciences while interning for the Embassy of Ecuador, the National Council of Resistance of Iran and the United Nations Institute for Training and Research.

Furtado said Galindo loved the outdoors, and one of her favorite places was her grandfather’s avocado farm, where she would climb trees and play on a swing that overlooked the land.

Galindo’s family started a GoFundMe in her memory to raise money for the Ecuador Manta Rays Project, which supports giant manta rays in the country threatened by fishing and hunting. The caption states that Galindo loved the sea, finding her love for manta rays after learning to scuba dive, and she had a tattoo on her right arm.

The GoFundMe has raised more than $13,000 of its $10,000 goal as of Wednesday.

Furtado said when she was going through a difficult time at the end of her sophomore year, Galindo was always there to rub her back and tell her it was okay to cry.

“When I would be done crying she would make me laugh until my stomach hurt,” Furtado said. “If I wanted to go drive 30 minutes to get food she would come with me, and if I wanted to watch a stupid movie, she would watch it with me just to see me laugh and she would put on music that she hated to listen to that she knew that I loved just to make me feel better.” 

She said she and Galindo often talked about the future, like how Galindo was going to be the “cool, single, fun aunt” to Furtado’s future kids because she didn’t want to have children of her own. Furtado said during her 20th birthday last semester, Galindo made her a book of letters from people she knew, printed and cut out pictures of her family and friends and wrote Furtado a seven-page letter.

“In the letter, she talks about how she is so proud of me and how much she loves our friendship and how she can’t wait to keep doing life with me and, obviously, her life was cut short but being her friend was probably the best thing I have ever been and will be,” Furtado said.

Some of Galindo’s closest friends said they are still grieving the loss of Galindo and plan to write a series of essays on what Galindo meant to them and the GW community. 

Tom Guglielmo, the department chair and an associate professor of American studies, said Galindo sat in the front row of his 100- to 120-person lecture, Modern U.S. Immigration, in fall 2023 and was always raising her hand with a smart and thoughtful comment on the readings or lecture material.

“She was just an incredibly serious and engaged student who wanted to get the most out of that class, I would assume out of her GW education,” Guglielmo said. “And afterwards, she really wanted to do what she could to, as I said, make the world a better place.”

Guglielmo said Galindo emailed him at the start of the course to share with him that she was passionate about immigration. He said Galindo wrote a paper analyzing Oscar Martinez’s “The Beast” — a report on the experiences of Central American migrants — that he described as one of the greatest undergraduate papers he had ever read.

Before Galindo left for Australia to study abroad, Guglielmo said he was helping connect her with colleagues at other universities and former students who pursued immigration law to help propel her career.

“I reached out to those former students and my friend who’s a law professor and said, ‘Listen, this is a really special student and she’s going to make a fantastic immigration attorney someday,’” Guglielmo said.

Junior Lukas Johansson said he exercised with Galindo at Lerner Health and Wellness Center, where the pair worked. He said Galindo would teach him leg exercises while he helped her improve her pull-ups. He said she was on her way to achieving her goal of 10 pull-ups.

Johansson said Galindo was a good cook and would write him directions and ingredient lists for chicken and salmon dishes. He said they would often joke that she was his “life coach.”

“She was a very sweet, thoughtful and funny person who brought an extremely positive energy to the community,” Johansson said.

Senior Teja Christopher said she would regularly have movie nights with Galindo and Furtado in their room in West Hall when Galindo was a first year and she was a sophomore, talking for hours about life and their future goals.

“She was someone who she always had the right thing to say, and it really didn’t matter the amount of time that we would go without seeing one another,” Christopher said. “I always knew that I could rely on her a lot because she was just such a positive person.”

Junior Zoë Feigel said she met Galindo through Sigma Kappa and that the pair were neighbors in West Hall during their first year at GW.

“She touched a lot of lives of many people, and this loss is so devastating to our entire community,” Feigel said. “She’s such a radiant person.”

Galindo is survived by her father Alvaro Galindo, her mother Ana Maria Merlo and her older brother Alvaro Jose Galindo.

Editor’s note: If any family members or friends of Galindo would like to provide further comment for the story, email The Hatchet at [email protected].

This post has been updated to correct the following:

The Hatchet updated this post to include additional details about the relationship between Galindo and Furtado as well as further plans from her friends to memorialize Antonella with a series of essays. 

The Hatchet incorrectly reported that Galindo was 20. She was 21. The Hatchet also incorrectly reported that Galindo’s tattoo was on her side. It was on her arm. We regret these errors.

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About the Contributor
Fiona Bork, Assistant News Editor
Fiona Bork is a sophomore majoring in journalism and mass communication from San Diego, California. She is The Hatchet's 2023-2024 assistant news editor for the Student Life beat.
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