Sunday, December 17, 2000

Mourners find comfort in fire victim's message

By Dan Klepal
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        MONTGOMERY — Austin “A.J.” Cohen taught his family and friends many lessons during his life. Mr. Cohen has taught a lesson in his death, as well.

        More than 1,000 people attended a Mass of Christian burial at Good Shepherd Church Saturday to say goodbye to Mr. Cohen, a 21-year-old University of Dayton senior who died in a house fire at his school Dec. 10.

        Many of the people in attendance were young friends of Mr. Cohen, who lived in Symmes Township. His brother, Dustin, said A.J.'s easy smile, good heart and loving nature allowed him to touch many lives.

[photo] Dustin Cohen stands at the lectern Saturday with his brother Matthew (left) and friend Burke Byer at the Church of Good Shepherd for the funeral of Austin “A.J.” Cohen, killed in a University of Dayton fire.
(Tony Jones photo)
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        “He was all of those things we strive to be,” Dustin Cohen said. “And what he'd have us take away from this is to appreciate who you have.”

        Mr. Cohen was a senior football player and economics major at the school. A photomontage of Mr. Cohen in his football uniform was projected over the altar as two of his brothers and a close friend talked about the impact he had on their lives.

        Father Thomas Axe said during the homily that friends and family should count on the “strength of God” to see them through the grief. Father Axe said the grief can serve a purpose — reminding us all of the value of life.

        “A tragedy has happened, but it's not the tragedy that has gathered us together — it's our desire to be comforted,” Father Axe said.

        A.J. sent an e-mail recently to his friends and family that was printed for those attending the service.

        “I hope that at some point I did something to make everyone smile and have a good day,” the e-mail says.

        He did - day after day, his friend Burke Byer said, adding that the e-mail was Mr. Cohen's chance to say goodbye.

        “It sounds like A.J. sent that from heaven,” Mr. Byer said. “He brought so much happiness into this life. Humility was his motto and way of life.”

        Football had been a passion for Mr. Cohen since age 5. But he only recently realized that it was the people the game led him to — not the games themselves — that made it special.

        “Football is one of the only things I know in life,” he said in the e-mail. “As it comes to an end, I am starting to realize that it is not the actual games I will miss most. It's the locker room antics and the practices and the weight room and the running.

        “I will miss the camaraderie.”

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