In the prayer garden next to the Loyola College Chapel, a dozen students who were friends with Stephanie Parente gathered Tuesday to cry, hug and lean on each other as they remembered their classmate who was found dead with her family in a Towson hotel Monday.
Parente, 19, was a sophomore at Loyola and was deeply involved in the life of the school. She was a coxswain for the men's crew team and played club field hockey, her friends said. She danced at school rallies and loved going out, but the speech pathology major was also a serious student.
"She was always full of life and happy and smiling," said Stefanie Spain, a sophomore who lived in Parente's dorm during their freshman year. "She was always making people laugh."
The last official record of her on campus was Sunday morning, when she swiped her ID card and had breakfast with her roommates in a college dining hall. Her friends knew her family was visiting for the weekend and that she was spending time with them.
"Nothing was amiss, as far as her roommates could tell," said the Rev. Brian Linnane, the Loyola president.
But the friends began to worry by Sunday night, when Parente didn't come home even though she had a major chemistry exam Monday, Linnane said. It was unlike Parente — who wanted to be a dentist and would spend hours in the library studying — to blow off an exam.
"The chemistry book was open on the desk, and it was strange," Linnane said. "It raised questions about where she was the night before an exam that was perceived to be important."
The friends tried Parente's cell phone but got no answer, he said. Then they called the Towson Sheraton North and were transferred to the Parente family's room. William Parente answered and said his daughter was staying with the family at the hotel, Linnane said.
But on Monday, Stephanie didn't show up for her exam. Her professor contacted the administration, which got in touch with the hotel and asked that hotel staff enter the Parente room to check on the family. That's when the bodies of William Parente, 59; his wife, Betty Parente, 58; and their two daughters, Stephanie and 11-year-old Catherine, were found.
"It is very devastating for us," Linnane said Tuesday. "Stephanie was a very gifted, bright young woman. ... This is a grievous wound and a terrible loss of someone with real promise."
As word spread on the Loyola campus Monday night, an impromptu Mass was held in the Catholic college's chapel for Stephanie's friends. Another Mass for the entire campus community is to be held Tuesday night.
"She was the nicest person. She never said anything mean about anybody," said Dave Thompson, a sophomore who was on the crew team with Stephanie. He said she had helped out with Habitat for Humanity last year and was planning to study abroad in England in the fall.
A campuswide e-mail was sent to Loyola students, faculty and staff Tuesday. Even students who did not know Parente said they were shocked and saddened. But many on the North Baltimore campus of 3,500 undergraduates and 2,600 graduate students knew the outgoing young woman from Long Island, N.Y., and were in mourning.
They said their Catholic faith and deep sense of community would help them through. "Our faith is an important resource for us to turn to because we're really confronting the mystery of evil," Linnane said.
Many of her friends said they weren't ready to talk yet. Instead, they held onto each other outside the chapel, in the 9/11 Memorial Garden. A plaque in the garden quotes the 27th Psalm: "Wait for the Lord, be strong and let your heart take courage."
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