There were no open seats and few dry eyes late Monday afternoon inside Saint Vincent College's Mary, Mother of Mercy Chapel, where students and faculty mourned the death of a 23-year-old senior killed in a shooting in Erie, Pa., over the weekend.
"These are always difficult times in finding the right words, even finding words at all," said the Rev. Killian Loch, the director of campus ministry at the Catholic college of nearly 2,000 students.
Abram Sorek of Erie was at a home in the 600 block of Kahkwa Boulevard with four friends when a gun held by one of them discharged around 3:15 a.m., authorities said. The bullet struck Mr. Sorek in the head, and he was pronounced dead at 5:42 a.m. at UPMC Hamot in Erie.
The manner of death is pending consultation with investigators and prosecutors. Investigators are also awaiting the results of toxicology tests, which will take up to four weeks.
"The gun was definitely not in Mr. Sorek's hands," Erie police Chief Randy Bowers said Monday afternoon. "It was in the hands of another. There was no altercation or argument that we know of. The circumstances of how the gun was discharged is the central point of this investigation."
Erie County Coroner Lyell P. Cook said authorities do not believe Mr. Sorek was intentionally killed.
"We don't believe that this was a murder," Mr. Cook said. "It's either going to be accidental or homicide."
District Attorney Jack Daneri said he hopes to decide by the end of Thursday whether to charge anyone.
Erie police have interviewed the four witnesses who were in the house. Two are men, two are women, all between 20 and 23 years old, Mr. Daneri said, adding that he received video-recorded interviews and police reports Monday.
Mr. Daneri would not discuss additional details, including why the gun was present and whether drugs or alcohol played a role.
Chief Bowers said the gun was legally registered to one of the people in the house.
At the Saint Vincent service, the number of students and faculty -- more than 200 -- who prayed, sang hymns and sobbed was a testament to an outgoing, vivacious personality.
"Abe knew the way to the hearts and souls of everyone he met," said Brother Maximilian Maxwell. "This chapel is filled to capacity because of the impact Abe had on us."
Mr. Sorek's girlfriend, Rachel Svovanec, a Saint Vincent senior, said his room featured a sign that said "Don't forget to smile," and that he put the needs of others first.
"This is the reason so many people are here," she said. "Fortunately he has touched so many lives that he will survive through us."
A lacrosse midfielder who had earned an associate's degree from Mercyhurst North East in Erie before coming to Saint Vincent, he was known around campus by his preppie penchant for brightly colored pants and ties.
Mr. Sorek, a communication major, was looking forward to graduating and a potential career editing and shooting video for a news organization, his instructors said.
"He was very open with his emotions. He was very gentle and sweet," said Melissa Cook, Mr. Sorek's academic adviser and chair of the Communication Department. "For a young man, that's not typically an adjective that you use. ... Some students are scared to give the wrong answer. Abe never was. He'd say, 'I'll try.' "
After the scores of mourners filed out of the chapel, Brother Norman Hipps, the president of the college, which is affiliated with the Benedictine order, said the rituals of a shared faith will help distraught students deal with their grief, which comes a little more than two years after Saint Vincent student Matthew Russo was killed by his mother, who then took her own life.
"Students don't expect to die, so this is a difficult experience," he said. "Some of them are young in their faith and they wrestle with the question of belief and the role of death in our lives."
Robert Zullo: firstname.lastname@example.org or 412-263-3909. Twitter: @rczullo. Jonathan Silver: email@example.com or 412-263-1962. Twitter: @jsilverpg. First Published April 14, 2014 2:08 PM