OU students who died in house fire remembered

ATHENS, Ohio (AP) - Erin DeMarco enjoyed teasing her father, who said she was his "best friend." Christine Wilson always had a smile on her face and Andrea Dennis had fallen in love.

Their family and friends said Saturday at a memorial service that the three sorority sisters at Ohio University, killed in a suspicious house fire near Ohio State University, loved life and made others happy.

Dennis, 20, of Madeira near Cincinnati; DeMarco, 19, of Nimishillen Township near Canton; and Wilson, 19, of the Columbus suburb of Dublin, died in the fire on April 13. Also killed were Ohio State students Alan Schlessman, 21, of Perkins Township near Sandusky, and Kyle Raulin, 20, of West Chester.

Police have said that they have identified no suspects or motive in the fire, which started after 4 a.m. in the three-story yellow brick rooming house rented by Schlessman, Raulin and 10 other friends. The deaths are being investigated as homicides, and possible charges could include manslaughter and murder.

The three women had been at the house to celebrate Schlessman's 21st birthday at a party that ended about an hour before the fire.

DeMarco's father, Michael, spoke early in the 2½-hour service about how his daughter enjoyed teasing him, with her favorite nickname for him being "fatty."

As DeMarco spoke, the Templeton Blackburn Memorial Auditorium on the OU campus about 70 miles southeast of Columbus lost power, throwing the crowd into darkness.

"Erin?" DeMarco said, drawing laughter from the crowd, which was estimated by campus police at about 1,000.

DeMarco told those in attendance that they should not be too quick to move on.

"Memorialize this tragedy by your actions," an emotional DeMarco said, before giving a message to his daughter. "Come and visit me in my dreams. You are not only my daughter, but my best friend. I'll think of you every day. I'll see you in heaven."

Dennis' mother, Patty, said her daughter had met a young man and fallen in love.

"I'm so grateful she had that before she died," Dennis said, barely holding back tears. "Every mother wants that for her daughter."

A friend speaking on behalf of Wilson's family described her as constantly happy.

"She knew and practiced the simple rules of making people happy," Mark King said.

The stage was decorated with roses, the flower of the sorority the three belonged to, Alpha Gamma Delta. Several sorority sisters spoke.

A collage of photos and quotes about each woman was set up on the stage in front of a bouquet of flowers. At the end of the service, empty baskets were filled with flowers and written memories of the women and given to their families.

OU President Robert Glidden and Barbara Rich, Ohio State assistant vice president of student affairs, spoke before turning the service over to the families. "The Rose" by Bette Midler and "I Will Remember You" by Sarah McLachlan were played.

(Copyright 2003 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)