It was the weekend he planned to ask her to marry him.
They were going to spend time together with their parents, and, when he got his chance, Andrew Roccella hoped to take Corinne Schillings' father aside and ask for his daughter's hand.
Then, when the time was right, Andrew would ask Corinne, a native of Homewood, Ill., a question she wanted to say yes to, that she talked about with her friends at work all the time.
"This is a tragic love story," said her aunt, Gayle Krek. "What Corinne didn't know was he had just purchased a diamond ring."
Roccella and Schillings, both 26, remained missing yesterday along with 6-year-old Daniel Bentrem, of Harrisonburg, Va., after the Seaport Taxi in which they were traveling overturned, spilling 25 people into Baltimore harbor during a sudden storm Saturday.
A 60-year-old woman who was pulled from the water after the accident, Joanne Pierce of Vineland, N.J., died. Two others were in critcal condition yesterday in Baltimore hospitals - Lisa Pierce, 30, daughter of Joanne Pierce; and Sarah Bentrem, 8, sister of Daniel.
Search teams combed a 1,000-square-yard area of rough harbor water yesterday hoping to find signs of the missing three, but the divers were called back in at dark. The search resumes today.
Schillings' parents, Denny and Karen Schillings of Homewood, and Roccella's parents, Dr. Edward Roccella and his wife, Eileen, of Vienna, Va., were aboard the water taxi with their children at the time of the storm. They believe the young couple perished in the accident and are praying for the return of their remains, according to a statement they released.
The Seaport Taxi had just left Fort McHenry and was headed for when a violent wind gust overturned it. Rescuers from a Naval Reserve base at the fort and a Fire Department boat reached the crew and passengers within minutes.
Though Roccella and Schillings weren't officially engaged when they were lost, they planned for a future together, their families said. They met in Florence, Italy, in the summer of 1998 while studying abroad. Both attended Purdue University, where she was a language major, focusing on Italian and Spanish.
Roccella, a 1995 graduate of George C. Marshall High School in Falls Church, Va., studied writing and was on the lacrosse team.
Roccella and Schillings graduated from Purdue in 1999 and soon moved to Washington D.C., where they were living at the time of the accident.
Nancy White, who lives on the same street as Edward and Eileen Roccella, said the news that the Roccellas' only child is missing after the accident has hit the close-knit Virginia community hard.
"I would see him over there a lot visiting," White said. "I see him over there all the time helping his dad. He's a very nice young man. They're a very nice family."
Schillings' roots were in Homewood, where her parents were educators in local schools and active in the community. As a child, Schillings was in Girl Scouts, earning the Silver Award in 1991 before going on to Homewood-Flossmoor High School, the family statement said.
Her father was a teacher at Homewood-Flossmoor for 30 years, and she was an excellent student, school spokesman David Thieman said.
"The entire Homewood-Flossmoor community is really devastated," Thieman said. "She was very well-liked, hard-working and disciplined."
Her family plans to establish a scholarship in her name to be granted to a Silver Award-winning scout who wants to pursue an education and career in languages, the statement said.
From her professor at Purdue to her boss at the libertarian Cato Institute, a Washington think tank where Schillings worked as a Web master, she was described as intelligent and personable.
"I've worked in a lot of places with a lot of people, and she was one of the nicest people I have ever worked with," said Virginia Anderson, director of Web services at the institute.
Recently, she enrolled in a master's program in international finance at George Mason University. Her interests were broad, and she was drawn to work at the Cato Institute because the think tank was a place where she might contribute to a wider public policy debate, Anderson said.
"She was really into international finance and trade policy," she said. Recently, Schillings met with the institute's free trade group to discuss her ideas. But much of her thought seemed to turn to Roccella and her hope that they would soon be married.
"She would always talk about it," Anderson said. "She was waiting for him to pop the question. ... They were both so young, it's just not fair."
The Chicago Tribune is a Tribune Publishing newspaper. Sun staff writer Laurie Willis contributed to this article.
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