Sunday, April 27, 2003

Families share memories of fire's victims

By Stephenie Steitzer
Enquirer contributor

[IMAGE] Patty Dennis reflects on the life of her daughter Andrea at a memorial service at Ohio University Saturday as Andrea's cousin Megan (left) and sister Ally listen.
(Associated Press photo)
| ZOOM |
ATHENS, Ohio - Andrea Dennis loved her family, her university and her sorority.

Most of all, she loved life.

That was the message conveyed during a Saturday afternoon memorial by the families and friends of three Ohio University students, including Dennis, 20, of Madeira, who died April 13 in a Columbus house fire.

OU students Christine Wilson, 19, of Dublin, and Erin DeMarco, 19, of Canton, and two Ohio State University students, Kyle Raulin, 20, of West Chester Township in Butler County, and Alan Schlessman, 21, of Perkins Township, also died in the blaze.

"I need for you to know that even though Andrea had a wonderful experience in high school, she absolutely loved OU," said her mother, Patty Dennis.

To her daughter's Alpha Gamma Delta sisters, Mrs. Dennis said, "She truly loved you, she never criticized you."

Andrea, a journalism major, graduated from Madeira High School in 2001.

Patty Dennis and husband, Dean, told the crowd of nearly 1,000 in Templeton-Blackburn Alumni Memorial Auditorium that Andrea loved college and the sorority.

Andrea had a boyfriend, Justin Dyke, an OU student from Cleveland.

"Andrea met and fell in love with Justin," Patty Dennis said. "It will always make me so grateful that she had that before she died."

Dean Dennis said Andrea made a bet with her boyfriend last year that the Cincinnati Reds would have a better season than the Cleveland Indians.

"She barely won that bet," he said jokingly.

The families and friends of DeMarco and Wilson also painted pictures of two women as model daughters, sorority sisters and college students.

"This is probably the hardest thing I've ever had to do," said DeMarco's father, Mike DeMarco. "Erin really loved college life and sorority life."

DeMarco was a business major who planned to pursue a career in law. Wilson was an education major.

Mike DeMarco shared humorous stories about his daughter, but also urged people to remember the women through action.

If parties are too crowded, he said, leave. If something or someone looks suspicious, check it out.

"Please use this tragedy and memorialize it with your actions," he said.

Jennifer Lehren, a sorority sister and survivor of the house fire, spoke of how she and the other girls had been planning the trip to Columbus for the 21st birthday party of their friend Schlessman.

Lehren, who wore a bandage on her right hand, said the trip was Andrea's first visit to Schlessman's house near the OSU campus.

"It keeps us at ease knowing how much fun she had that night," Lehren said.

A separate memorial service was held Wednesday for Raulin, a Lakota West graduate, and Schlessman.

Police said Saturday that they had identified no suspects or motive in the fire, which has been ruled arson. It started after 4 a.m. in the three-story brick house rented by Schlessman, Raulin and 10 other friends. The deaths are being investigated as homicides.

The party concluded about an hour before the fire.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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