Iowa Girl, 14, Who Was Excited to Celebrate Quinceañera Is Killed in Hit-and-Run Days Prior

Ema Cardenas, 14, was walking home from Des Moines East High School when she was fatally struck

Ema Cardenes
Ema Cardenas. Photo: Instagram

An Iowa girl was killed in a hit-and-run just days before her quinceañera.

Ema Cardenas, 14, was walking home from Des Moines East High School around 3:45 p.m. on Thursday when she was struck by a vehicle.

She died of her injuries at a local hospital, Associated Press reported.

Terra Jean Flipping, 38, has been charged with leaving the scene of an accident resulting in serious injury or death of the high school freshman, KCCI reported.

"We are still looking for a few more witnesses on this because we don't have a real clear picture as of why the 14-year-old girl was in the roadway," Des Moines Police Department Sgt. Paul Parizek tells PEOPLE. "She had just got out of school 4 blocks away."

Witnesses told police that after Flipping allegedly hit the teen "she pulled into a parking lot that is right there on the corner. Got out of her car, looked to see what happened, got back in her car and took off."

Parizek says the following morning police received a tip "with a name and a location where we might find the car. It was within a quarter mile of the crash scene."

Ema's mother, Anna Campos, told KCCI that Ema was getting ready to celebrate her 15th birthday that weekend.

Her gown, her mother said, was emerald green and gold — her favorite colors.

"She was so excited," she said. "Now I have to tell those family members that instead of giving invitations to her party, I have to give invitations to her funeral."

Terra Jean Flipping
Terra Flipping. Des Moines Police Department

Ema's English teacher, Rebecca Sanchez, told the Des Moines Register that Ema showed her pictures of her quinceañera gown earlier that day.

"That girl, her face lit up with excitement," Sanchez said. "She was really excited to have this coming into womanhood moment. ... She would always talk about how her mom and dad were going all out for this moment. She appreciated her parents and everything they were doing for her."

Sanchez described Ema as "so much fun, she's so loving," the Register reported.

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"Her spirit, she just brightened up a room. I've never seen that girl frown. She would come into my classroom full of smiles. … She was friends with everyone, that was my favorite part of her."

Anyone who may have seen the crash is asked to call the Des Moines Police Department Traffic Unit at 515-323-8370.

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