COLUMBUS - On the night before his 21st birthday, Alan Schlessman's family took him and his housemate Kyle Raulin out to dinner to celebrate.
Afterward, as they drove away, Laurie Schlessman of suburban Sandusky turned to her husband, John, and asked:
“Doesn't Alan look good? Don't those boys look great? Aren't they happy?”
Little did they know that, while Alan's birthday was still in its earliest hours on April 13, both he and his 20-year-old friend from Westchester, Ohio, would die along with three others in an inferno that destroyed their three-story rooming house off the Ohio State University campus.
Police have ruled the blaze arson, a “murderous act” in the words of Columbus Mayor Michael Coleman.
A reward has been established for information leading to the arrest of the person or persons who set the fire about 4 a.m. as the party was winding down.
Yesterday, family, students, faculty, friends, and strangers participated in an OSU memorial service honoring the two young men and three sorority sisters visiting from Ohio University - Andrea Dennis, 20, of Madeira; Erin M. DeMarco, 19, of Canton; and Christine Marie Wilson, 19, of Dublin - who had attended Alan's birthday party.
While there were tears, hugs, and even a few laughs inside Mershon Auditorium, campus life went on outside.
“It seems too many students are too eager to move on, too eager to forget what happened, too eager to have more fun,” said Eddie Paulins, student government president. “I urge [students], when you're ready to have fun this weekend or any other weekend or night, remember what happened last Sunday, remember what happens when things get out of control, when somebody gets too angry.”
Firefighters who attended the service were credited with saving others from the flames. Several of the survivors were in the audience.
In the lobby of the auditorium, huge photo collages commemorated the lives of the two OSU students. Next to a photo of a toddler Alan Schlessman holding up an oversized plastic golf club was a much larger close-up of a teenage Alan Schlessman, the 2000 state golf champ from Perkins High School.
He was studying business at Ohio State and was an avid sports fan. His father noted that, in addition to the founding of a scholarship fund in his son's memory, he will someday pursue Alan's dream of operating a tennis and golf clinic for poor youngsters.
“Alan loved this place,” John Schlessman told the crowd. “I had to cell phone him all the time because he didn't want to come home.”
As the strains of Amazing Grace echoed through the auditorium, the elder Schlessman put his arm around his sixth-grade daughter, Amy. Fighting tears, she reached out with her other hand to her mother, who, in turn, took the hand of her other daughter, Kelly.
Amy, nine years younger than her brother, told the crowd they could honor her brother's memory by doing what he did.
“When a young person asks you to come out and play, stop what you're doing, give the young person a smile, and just go out and play,” she said. “Al would like that.”