Friday, July 20, 2001

Amid the flood, a calm farewell: 'I love you guys'

Friends recall selflessness of young victim

By Susan Vela
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        They were inside a sport-utility vehicle that was floating in 3 feet of water. While those around her panicked, a 16-year-old Blue Ash girl remained the voice of calm.

        “If anything happens, I love you guys,” Monica Kuchmar told Christopher Prues, 20, of Sycamore Township, Brian Peters, 21, of Golf Manor, and Kimberly Hayman, 17, of Loveland.

        That was moments before they all escaped from the vehicle trapped in flash-flood waters that ripped through a creek in Symmes Township Tuesday night and rushed toward the Little Miami River.

        The other three made it to dry ground. Monica didn't. Her body was found Wednesday evening in the Little Miami River near Lake Isabella Park — one of three deaths in Greater Cincinnati linked to the severe storms and flooding overnight Tuesday.

        But her friends and family said those last words epitomized Monica's sweet, loving nature and generous heart.

        “It shows she was the kind of person who really loved you. She was a good person,” said Mr. Prues, who met Monica this summer.

        His mind has blacked out a lot about his last moments with Monica. But her last words are helping him move on.

        Hundreds gathered Thursday at Weil Funeral Home, Symmes Township, and United Jewish Cemetery, Montgomery, to mourn the Sycamore High School student who would have entered her senior year in the fall and was known to draw children like a magnet, befriend both athletes and academics, and always help someone in need.

        It's tragic, they said, that Monica — known for her quick, lively smile and abiding affection — left her home Tuesday night to help a friend move furniture from a flood-prone basement.

        “She cared for others more than she cared for herself. This whole thing (happened) from her giving in times when she was not even called,” said Rabbi Sholom Kalmanson of the Chabad of Southern Ohio.

        Monica's parents, Edward and Paula Kuchmar, are Russian immigrants and Orthodox Jews. The rabbi met the Kuchmars soon after they arrived in Cincinnati more than two decades ago. Monica was the youngest of the couple's three daughters.

        She attended Hebrew school about five years ago and is remembered by her former teacher, Chana Mangel, for her bright spirit and having a real love and curiosity for her religion. Whenever she was struck by a Hebrew school lesson, Monica was prone to standing up in class and saying “Ooh, that was really cool.”

        Leslie Reiss, a neighbor and friend of the family, said Monica was “the only person in Cincinnati who had a key to my house.”

        She often came over to see Mrs. Reiss' son, Matthew.

        But, “she was my friend, too. She was everyone's helping hand. She would take her shirt off her back for anyone. She touched a lot of souls. I have to believe God chose her because she was so good,” Mrs. Reiss said.

        The family has refused comment but Mrs. Reiss has spent time with them since they learned of Monica's disappearance.

        They remained hopeful until they finally heard that their daughter's body was found Wednesday night. The discovery gave them closure.

        “If they had to live (with Monica missing) another day, it would have been pretty hard,” Mrs. Reiss said.

        Cheralyn Jardine, a Sycamore High School teacher, is wondering what she'll do when the yearbook and newspaper staffs return in the fall and Monica isn't there. The teen was Ms. Jardine's aide and, as a reporter, had become known for her integrity and eye for detail.

        “What can I do for you today?” is what she asked Ms. Jardine at the start of each session.

        Katie Amendt, 17, is left missing her best friend of four years. She and Monica talked on the phone and saw each other almost every day. Monica was mad for pop star Ricky Martin and had dreams of going to college in California.

        Katie is hoping their group of friends will rebound OK.

        “It's all happened very fast,” she said.


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