SAN JOSE -- Kimberly Estrada Chico was swiftly moving toward her lifelong aspirations for a nursing career.
The East San Jose native had a meticulous plan by the time she graduated from Independence High in 2012. This summer, she had a year of classes at San Jose State under her belt, qualified as a certified nursing assistant, and was working as a caregiver for adults with special needs.
"That was her dream job, becoming a nurse," said friend Yvonne Nguyen.
Chico's dream tragically ended early Saturday morning when she was hit by a stray bullet while riding in a car in downtown San Jose.
Her death has been described as a senseless and maddening case of wrong place, wrong time. When she was shot just before 2 a.m., the bars and clubs were just letting out, filling the streets and sidewalks with scores of patrons.
"When you hear about someone losing their life in a time of such great promise like Kimberly, it's a kick in the gut," said Councilman Sam Liccardo, whose district includes the downtown entertainment zone.
Chico was a passenger in a car traveling near South Second and East San Salvador streets when the bullet whistled into the vehicle, police said.
The driver, a 21-year-old man whose name was not released, stopped the car and called 911. Chico died at the hospital a short time later.
In her final moments, she was two blocks away from the school where she was chasing her nursing dream.
"One death by a homicide is too many but losing a promising young college student inflicts a unique emotional toll on a community," Liccardo said.
It marked the city's 30th homicide in 2013, in a year where overall violence and gang homicides have gone down while non-gang-related killings are on the rise. San Jose is on pace to surpass last year's total of 46 homicides, which was a two-decade high.
Police have not released any more details about the deadly shooting, other than to confirm Chico wasn't the target. She was initially identified by police as Kimberly Estrada. A correction was later issued, and relatives said her full name was Kimberly Joyce Estrada Chico.
For the time being, that's all that her mourning family members were willing to say; those reached by this newspaper said they weren't ready to talk about their fallen daughter, sister and cousin.
Chico grew up in East San Jose, attending Painter Elementary School off McKee Road, the next-door Sheppard Middle School and then Independence High.
Maaria Ubaidullah, 19, met Chico when the two were in the same third-grade class and followed each other to high school, where they became close friends.
"When it comes to school, she was always that straight-A student who always succeeded at everything she did," Ubaidullah said. "She made everything look easy. Getting A's in college is not easy. She made it look like the easiest thing ever."
Nguyen, another high school friend, said Chico "inspired a lot of people" with her determination to chase down her dream of becoming a nurse.
"By the age of 19, she achieved so much," Nguyen said.
Indeed, when Chico died, she was enrolled for the Fall 2013 semester. In July she completed a one-month certified nursing assistant course at the California College of Nursing in Milpitas, and passed a corresponding state exam. On top of that, she was working as an in-home caregiver with Santa Clara-based Life Services Alternatives, which serves adults with developmental disabilities.
That Chico's life seemed so full of promise has made it harder for her family and friends to come to grips with her sudden death, Nguyen among them.
"I thought it was a nightmare, and I wanted to wake up," Nguyen said. "It took a few days to really sink in. I had to be strong because she would probably tell me, you have to be strong."
Contact Mark Gomez at 408-920-5869. Contact Robert Salonga at 408-920-5002.