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34-year-old N.J. university employee 'always brought energy' to room

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When employees of a New Jersey university created a group called the "fun committee," Lisa Pierce was one of the first to join. Much to the delight of her colleagues, she supplied the committee with snacks, planned parties and made friends with everyone who joined.

"Lisa was just so vibrant - always smiling and caring about other people," said Donna Minnich, Pierce's supervisor and the director of the student center at New Jersey Institute of Technology in Newark. "She had this way about her that was like sunshine."

Late Monday, the 34-year-old New Jersey resident became the second confirmed victim of the Baltimore water taxi accident that also claimed the life of her mother, Joanne Pierce, 60, of Vineland, N.J.

Surrounded by family and friends, Lisa Pierce died at Harbor Hospital, where she was taken after being pulled from the water when the Seaport Taxi she and her parents were traveling in capsized, tossing 25 people overboard. Her father, Thomas Pierce, survived.

As rescue workers continued to search the waters off Fort McHenry yesterday for three missing people, friends and family members mourned the loss of Pierce, a woman described as charming and charismatic.

"When she walked into a room, she always brought energy to it," said Karen Quakenbush, a close friend who worked with Pierce at the university. "People were just drawn to her because she always made you feel like you were the center of attention. She was an extraordinary person who will be badly missed."

Students and faculty members said they were stunned and saddened by the news. On Monday, a prayer vigil for Pierce, who was the school's director of student activities, drew more than 200 people.

"So many on this campus are in shock today," said Minnich. "Everyone loved her so much."

Friends said that Pierce was devoted to her friends, boyfriend and family - often sharing stories about her older sister and two young nieces.

"She was a sightseer who wanted to see the world with friends and family," said Quakenbush, adding that Pierce often traveled from her home in Lyndhurst, N.J., to Philadelphia to take in art, music and culture.

A passion for travel and spending time with family brought Pierce on the last-minute trip to Baltimore, where she planned to tour the Inner Harbor area with her mother, a pediatric nurse, and father, a computer consultant. She invited her parents to Baltimore late last week after volunteering to accompany a group of engineering students to the city for a conference.

On Friday night, Joanne and Thomas Pierce arrived at the Marriott Waterfront Hotel on the harbor, where they spent the night with their youngest daughter.

After the accident, Thomas Pierce held vigil at his daughter's bedside, supported by friends and family from New Jersey. She remained in critical care until her death.

A graduate of Siena College in New York state, Pierce received a master's degree in labor management in 1997 from Stony Brook University in New York.

When contacted yesterday, many of her friends said their sorrow left them speechless.

"I can't think of anything more to say right now because I'm numb," said Minnich. "But in a few days I know I'll think of all sorts of fun stories about Lisa because that's the kind of person she was."

Copyright © 2014, Los Angeles Times
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