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THE NATION

Tragic Picture of Promise Lost

The 13 young people who died when a Chicago apartment porch collapsed were traveling toward wide-open futures.

July 01, 2003|Eric Slater | Times Staff Writer

CHICAGO -- Julie Sorkin, 25, had a new master's degree, a new job and a wedding on her bright horizon. Henry Wischerath Jr., 24, was attending the University of Chicago Law School so he could one day return to help his hometown of Buffalo, N.Y. Muhammed Hameeduddin, 25, came to America alone at 19, and was pursuing citizenship.

They were among 13 young people killed when the porches they were standing on crashed to the ground early Sunday. A look at the lives they led provides a tragic picture of promise lost.

Kelly McKinnell was a 26-year-old commercial photographer who loved teaching the art of light. Sam Farmer, a 21-year-old British-born economics major at the University of Arizona, visited his favorite junior high teacher at least once a year.

Friends said John Jackson, 22, was like many of the others: ambitious but unassuming, thrilled by the world, and with a future as open as the sea he came to love. Attending high school in Kansas City, he became a National Merit Scholar, climbed Mt. Rainier and traversed Alaskan glaciers before going to Georgetown University and taking up sailing.

"Some rare kids you look at and you say, 'This is going to be a fine adult. He has grace, humility, he's a leader people respect.' John was like that," said Richard Hibschman, headmaster at Pembroke Hill School. "It looks like there were another 11 John Jacksons who died that night."

Twelve of the victims died Sunday; an unidentified 25-year-old woman died from her injuries Monday.

Preliminary investigations into the collapse suggest the deck in the Lincoln Park neighborhood was structurally sound, though it may have been built without the proper permit, and probably crumbled under the weight of too many people. Authorities said the owner likely will not face charges.

Even as distraught families began planning funerals and city officials considered stricter building codes, a deck in nearby Rockford collapsed Sunday night, sending eight people to the hospital.

As people began to gather Saturday night at two apartments in the Lincoln Park building, summertime fun was on their minds following a typically long winter and a terminally rainy spring.

The young professionals and students sharing the apartments invited friends from childhood, from college, from work. It was time to "grill out," as they say here, to fire up the barbecue on the porch and sip drinks from plastic cups.

Hameeduddin brought his two brothers, witnesses said. They left early. He had helped bring them to the United States from Pakistan.

While studying economics and math at Hope University in Michigan, he paved the difficult road for his brothers and parents to emigrate from Karachi -- and still graduated magna cum laude -- before becoming an actuary at Watson Wyatt consulting in Chicago.

"He was bright, thirsty for knowledge -- a terrific young gentleman," said his boss, Mike Hayes. "I know people say those kinds of things in times like these, but it was absolutely true. He was such a gregarious and interesting young man and had such a promising future."

Friends said similar things about Eileen Lupton, 22, a graduate of Villanova University's nursing program. She was to start a job as a pediatric nurse in the hospital where some of the victims were taken. They said the same of Kathleen Sheriff, 23, a Duke University graduate and political junkie; and Eric Kumpf, 30, a trader for Barclays Capital in New York who was two blocks from the World Trade Center when it was attacked. He was to be married in September.

They said it too of Robert Koranda, 23, a 2002 Princeton University graduate who lived in the second-floor apartment.

Koranda was among several victims from well-to-do families. The Koranda family owns MidAmerica Bank, the largest Chicago-based thrift.

Despite his wealth, his high school prestige as both captain of the football team and student body president, he was "entirely unpretentious," Naperville North High School head football coach Larry McKeon said.

"Kids from all walks just flocked to him," McKeon said. "He was never the brightest star on the football field, but ... he was intelligent, articulate."

Shea Fitzgerald, at 19 the youngest to die, was 6-foot-8. He spent his summers as a camp counselor, paying attention to the kids rather than the other counselors, friends said. He fought through dyslexia to earn a football scholarship at Northern Illinois University.

Margaret Haynie, 23, had graduated from Indiana University. She was thrilled about her new job in Chicago as a banker. She and her college sweetheart were house shopping.

She stopped by the apartments because her fiance was at the party, and planned to stay just a few minutes. She was killed; he survived.

"I can't think of anybody who had more friends," said her father, Ken Haynie Jr. "And that group of young people was such a dynamic group. I didn't know them all, but you could tell, they mirrored my daughter. They were an exceptional bunch."

*

Times researcher John Beckham contributed to this report.

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