Liberty Remembers Kenyan Students Killed in Fire
Reporter: Mark Kelly l Photojournalist: Sally Delta
Lynchburg, VA - The international student community at Liberty University met Thursday to remember Victor Kwatemba and Philemon Onyango, both killed on Sunday when their apartment caught fire.
Almost 200 people filled Pate Chapel at Thomas Road Baptist Church. There, they prayed, sang, and shared personal stories about the friends they lost. Representatives from the Kenyan Embassy came to pay their respects in the chapel. But, the memorial service itself was special, paying homage to the men's Kenyan culture.
"In terms of a tragedy in the international community, we have not experienced anything like it in the international community. It's very difficult," said William Wegert, Dean of Liberty University's International Student Programs.
"We gathered here to mourn, but we've gathered because we love them - both Philemon and Victor," said one speaker.
Two men, young students, had a profound impact on this community; friends spoke of what they love, and what they'll miss.
"He would just tell me, 'Come on, dude. Let's do something together.' He was that kind of guy. A very joyful person," said Victor's friend.
From friends who knew their personality to government representatives who knew they died too young. Everyone shared how to cope with the loss.
"We know that God's plans are God's plans. Our plans may not be his plans and he has a plan for each one of us," said a representative from the Kenyan Embassy in D.C.
"To hear the news that your son has died and you're half a world away is difficult, very difficult," said Wegert.
Wegert spoke to the family mourning an ocean away in Kenya.
"It is very tough. It's tough for us to have to share the news and to know that they can't be here to embrace the community here and for us to embrace them," said Wegert.
If the list of those attending the memorial is any indication, Victor and Philemon are being embraced.
"I would like to remind all of you just saying, 'I love you,' to the person next to you, it means a lot because you don't know whether tomorrow, the next moment, you'll see them," said a speaker at the memorial service.
Liberty's planning a scholarship in memory of these men. It will be a full four-year scholarship for a Kenyan student who wants to study at Liberty.
We also learned more about the fire investigation. There's been talk about the smoke detector and whether it worked?
Lynchburg Fire Marshal Greg Wormser says electrical engineers are taking a look at it now. The woman who escaped and firefighters on scene say the alarm was not beeping when they were there.
"We determine the cause and determine where the fire started. In this case we did that, so it's up to somebody else to figure out if the smoke alarm was actually working," said Wormser.