Gavin Short was a passenger in a Volkswagen Tiguan that crashed on Interstate 35 near Tonkawa, Oklahoma late Friday night, according to highway patrol.
The vehicle was being driven by Nicholas Nair, 20, of Denton, Texas. The other passenger is identified as Drake Brooks, 22, of Evansville, Indiana, police said.
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Gavin's parents now hold tightly to the images and memories of the ambitious young man's life that was cut tragically short.
"It's every heartache. It's every nightmare. We never thought it would happen," said Gavin's mother, Beth Short.
"The pain is just unknowable," added his father, Allan Short.
Flowers lay in front of a project that earned the Grayslake native the title and honor of an Eagle Scout.
"I'm always going to take with me that Gavin was a gentle giant -- is a gentle giant," Beth said.
The students were returning home from safety storm chasing in Kansas when their car hydroplaned and was struck by a semi-truck, officials said.
"They were careful with their chasing, they didn't get too close," Beth said.
Gavin's parents said it was Brooks' first time spotting a tornado.
"Knowing Drake, at one point, called his family when they were on the way home and told his mom that this was the best night of his life. He had just seen his first tornado, and then just a little while later is when the accident happened," Allen said.
Galvin's parents are still numb over his loss but find solace knowing that moments before he died, he was literally chasing a passion he had since childhood.
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"Gavin kind of became our in-home meteorologist and warned us about everything," Beth said.
His ultimate career goal was to better understand Mother Nature to better help others.
"He wanted to make it better for people to know what was coming, to be prepared," Beth added.
His parents said that drive to help others was contagious and they know their son's memory will live on through the lives he's touched.
"I know that had he had the opportunity, he would have, you know, helped to improve weather forecasting for millions of people. And I just know that his friends are going to continue on his legacy," Allan said.
All three were meteorology students at the university, which released the following statement on Saturday:
The university is devastated to learn of the tragic passing of three students. Each were valued and loved members of our community. At this time, we ask the public to respect the privacy of their families.
University of Oklahoma President Joseph Harroz, Jr. released a statement on Twitter Sunday.