St. Francis remembers slain student

LORETTO – In Rachel Herr’s last call with Laurin Edwards on Wednesday, the close college friends discussed move-in day at St. Francis University, then just four days away.

“I can’t wait to see you Sunday,” Herr, a 19-year-old sophomore from Lancaster, recalled telling Edwards, also 19.

The next morning, a fellow sorority member called Herr with the news: Laurin had been shot to death at her home in the Pittsburgh suburbs. Her father, James, walked from room to room, shooting his family and his dog before taking his own life, police said.

On Sunday – move-in day for many at St. Francis – college President Father Gabriel Zeis opened an evening Mass in Edwards’ honor as students packed every pew and lined the chapel entryway. Sorority members in colorful Greek-letter shirts and many of Edwards’ friends, including Herr, were in attendance.

“For one year we were blessed to truly welcome Laurin,” Zeis said. “We met Laurin. We cherished her. At this time last year we welcomed her as a freshman – we didn’t know that that year would be her last year.”

Television news cameras stood at the rear of the Immaculate Conception Chapel; the nearby prayer book was filled with parents’ move-in day wishes for their children’s safety.

With the chaos of school’s opening week, some of Edwards’ friends haven’t yet had time to process the news of her death, Herr said.

“If she says ‘hi’ to you, she’ll keep saying ‘hi’ to you,” Herr said, quickly realizing she was describing her friend in the present. “I don’t know what tense to use with this yet.”

The past few days have shown how many friends Edwards made in just a year at St. Francis, Herr said. Edwards had joined the Phi Lambda Psi sorority – “the Lammies” – but seemed to attend every campus event, with friends in every circle.

“You have your cliques and your groups, obviously, but she had her hand in all of them,” Herr said, noting that they had joined different sororities during their freshman year. “You have a sisterly bond with the people in your sorority, but I even had that with Laurin. You could tell her anything.”

Herr said Edwards’ friends are planning benefit events for her family’s mounting hospital bills. Her mother and 21-year-old brother remain in a Pittsburgh hospital, wounded but expected to survive.

After the shootings, police said they couldn’t find a note or any message to explain why Edwards’ father had attacked his own family. At 19, his daughter was on her way to a degree in physician assistant sciences.

Edwards was a talented student, her friend said, able to breeze through tests while others studied for days.

“She was very, very bright,” Herr said. “She had a very bright future.”