Of course they would become good friends. All nine worked in the medical-care field. All were Filipinas. All were in their 30s and 40s.
Those shared connections are how the women, who often spent time together outside of work, came to be in a stretch limousine Saturday night.
"Whenever there were parties for one of their friends, they would all be there," said John Balon, whose wife Jennifer "Jenni" Balon was one of five women killed on the San Mateo Bridge when the 1999 Lincoln Town Car they were in burst into flames for reasons that remain unexplained.
They had gathered to celebrate the recent wedding of Neriza Fojas, 31, of Fresno -- who was among those killed in a tragedy that has resonated across the United States.
Tuesday, friends and families continued to grieve. In Dublin, John Balon remembered his 39-year-old wife, describing her as "beautiful" and worrying about how their 10-year-old daughter and 22-month-old son now will grow up without a mother.
"I told her, 'Your mom will not come home anymore,' " John Balon recalled telling their daughter, Jillian. "She said, 'No ... ' And I said, 'She's in a better place now. She's happy now.' And she said, 'Yes, dad.' And then she cried."
On Walnut Street in Alameda, a close neighborhood was mourning the loss of Felomina Geronga, 43, who also leaves behind two children -- a 10-year-old son and a 12-year-old daughter.
"Almost every day you are with her and then suddenly she's out of sight," said Aldrin Geronga, her husband. "It's hard. Sometimes you just think of following her, but I have my kids. I have to take care of them."
San Mateo County Coroner Robert Foucrault released the names Tuesday of all five women who perished. In addition to Balon, Geronga and Fojas, they are: Michelle Estrera, 35, of Fresno, and Anna Alcantara, 46, of San Lorenzo.
The connecting point for the women was the Fruitvale Healthcare Center in Oakland. Eight had worked at the nursing home.
"I think these women shared a couple of things," said Annaliese Impink, spokeswoman for the Fruitvale Center. "There was a bond of being in a similar profession. But there was also that Filipino bond as well. That particular facility is heavily Filipino when it comes to the staff."
Four of the women in the limousine currently worked at Fruitvale -- Balon and Alcantara as well as two of the survivors, Jasmin Deguia and Nelia Arrellano.
Workers at the 140-bed facility are devastated by the tragedy, Impink added.
"It's a very tight-knit community over there," she said. "It takes very special people to deal with the elderly and address end-of-life issues, and all of these nurses had a calling to do this."
Saturday night, the women had gathered at the Geronga home in Alameda.
Felomina Geronga, known as Fyla among friends, was described as a protective and caring mother who would awake at 5:30 a.m. to prepare lunches for her children before heading to work at Kaiser Oakland. Saturday, 12-year-old daughter Yoare teased her mother that her makeup and dress were too dark for her fun night out.
The group was waiting for the arrival of Estrera and newlywed Fojas. The two most recently were registered nurses at Community Regional Medical Center in Fresno.
But they were back in the Bay Area with their friends to celebrate. It was a happy time for Fojas, who was planning to return to the Philippines with her husband in June to hold another marriage ceremony with family.
The nine -- one more than the state limit of eight passengers for that vehicle -- were traveling in the limousine over the bridge to the Crowne Plaza Hotel in Foster City.
The cause of the fire remains under investigation. But they were just minutes from their destination when the passenger compartment began to fill with smoke and the women began to frantically pound on the partition separating them from the driver, trying to alert Orville "Ricky" Brown to the danger.
When he finally understood their panic, he pulled to the side of the bridge near Foster City as flames shot out of the passenger compartment. Brown, who emerged from the blaze unhurt, said in an interview with this newspaper that the fire spread so quickly there was little he could do.
But in an interview with ABC7 news, Arrellano, 36, said Brown could have done more to assist them.
The five women who died never escaped the vehicle. The four surviving passengers were transported to area hospitals to be treated for burns and smoke inhalation. Two were improving Tuesday at Santa Clara Valley Medical Center. Deguia, 34, and Amalia Loyola, 48, of San Leandro, now are listed in fair condition.
Arrellano and Mary G. Guardiano, 42, of Alameda were treated at Stanford Medical Center and have been released.
Tuesday, at the Geronga home, a small blue duffel bag remained in the living room close to the front door. It belongs to Fojas.
It's another reminder of the women who didn't return from that night.
Contact Mark Emmons at 408-920-5745.