Sophia Chen, a fourth-grader at Bradley Hills Elementary School, died on Dec. 12 after she was struck by a school bus Credit: Photo courtesy of Jon Shao

Nine-year-old Sophia Chen, who was fatally struck by a school bus last month, had high hopes for her future, her stepbrother said.

“She had mentioned many different things she wanted to be when she grew up. Her biological dad is a surgeon, and she wanted to be a surgeon,” her stepbrother Jon Shao told Bethesda Beat on Wednesday.

Sophia, a fourth-grader at Bradley Hills Elementary School in Bethesda, died on Dec. 12 after she was hit by her school bus near the intersection of Tanglewood Drive and Millwood Road.

Police said at the time that she had gotten off the bus and “for reasons unknown,” ran back toward it when she was struck. She was pronounced dead about four hours after the crash at a hospital in Washington, D.C.

Last month, neither Montgomery County police nor the school system released the identity of the girl who died.

Shao contacted Bethesda Beat and offered to talk about Sophia.


Sophia is technically Shao’s cousin, he said, because she was born to his uncle in China. But Shao said that after his uncle went through a divorce, his parents in Bethesda legally adopted Sophia. She came to the United States in 2015, when she was 4, he said.

Sophia was interested in everything from music to animals, Shao said. She “dabbled in a little bit of everything, from instruments to sports,” as hobbies and was “always happy and full of energy,” he said.

Shao said he was at his job as a firefighter in Fairfax County, Va., when he heard what happened to his stepsister.


“I was at work and got a call from my dad that she had been involved in an accident and that she was being transported to the hospital,” he said.

Shao, who lives in Culpeper, Va., said he “has experience in dealing with traumatic events” because of his job. He said he and his family have been “hanging in there” for the past month.

“They’re holding up. They’re doing the best they can,” he said of his parents.


Shao said at the time of the crash, police told the family that their investigation would likely take several weeks, although it could be longer because of the holidays. He is still waiting on the report, as well as the results of an autopsy from the D.C. Office of the Chief Medical Examiner.

“I think most people want to know what happened and why it happened,” he said.

Cheryle Adams, a spokeswoman for the medical examiner, wrote in an email on Friday that Sophia’s death was ruled an accident and was caused by “multiple blunt force injuries.”


Officer Rick Goodale, a police spokesman, wrote in an email Wednesday that there were no additional details.

As a tribute, Sophia’s family has asked the community to donate to the organization Operation Paws for Homes — an Alexandria, Va., nonprofit that helps get dogs adopted and helps with their rescue and treatment. Shao said a fund has been set up in Sophia’s honor to help with the cost of medications and exams for the animals.

“She loved dogs growing up, so we wanted to channel that passion,” he said.


Dan Schere can be reached at