Despite a tragic fatal accident last week involving a 16-year-old exchange student, leaders in Wapakoneta and Lengerich, Germany, wish to continue a student exchange program between the two Sister Cities.
Wapakoneta Mayor Rodney Metz said after Monday’s Wapakoneta City Council meeting that he has been in constant contact with Ursula Hohmann-Assig, who is president of the Sister Cities organization in Lengerich, Germany.
“Last week’s death of 16-year-old Luca Kötterheinrich was a tragic event and a very unfortunate accident,” Metz said. “I sincerely send my deepest sympathies to everyone who knew and loved Luca. There have been a lot of tears shed and and my heart goes out to them.
“We look forward to the students coming each year and we have been doing this for more than 20 years,” the mayor said. “When I talked to Ula last week that was one of her concerns and she has received many communications which say they want the program to continue. I understand and I will make sure everyone knows.”
Metz said there is an entire story behind Luca jumping in the water in an effort to help another student. A Letter to the Editor in today’s edition from Jan and Kevin Kentner explained Luca was trying to save Gustav, who was staying with the Kentners, and that Luca should be remembered as a hero.
Metz explained the program is coordinated by the Sister Cities group and relies on the cooperation of host families.
The mayor said both sides understand this was a tragic accident and while both sides are hurting emotionally that they want to continue the Sister Cities arrangement and the student and adult exchange program because they are an educational and cultural learning experiences.
“It is now a very matter of heart for us that the citizens of Wapakoneta learn that the bereaved parents, the membership of the German-American friendship club and all citizens that are affected by this tragedy want to express their gratitude for the enormous comforting sympathy they received from all around their sister city of Wapakoneta,” Hohmann-Assig wrote. “This experience of human commitment and connectedness strengthens the relationship between our two cities. Though being divided by such a great distance we feel united by mutual grief and understanding.”
She told the Wapakoneta Daily News the Germans had “heart-warming encounter” with the American adult group who visited from July 23 through July 29.
After the adults departed, the Lengerich residents prepared for the departure of the teenage boys, all from Hannah-Arendt Gymnasium.
They all knew each other well spending much time together in all kinds of extracurricular activities and that while on their trip to Ohio they had already spent some days in New York City. She said parents shared emails of the news.
“It is no exaggeration to state that the whole community is grieving over this painful loss,” Hohmann-Assig wrote. “The family of the boy is absolutely devastated. Yesterday (Monday) the parents of the other teenagers could hold their sons in their arms again. It was another heart-breaking moment for the family of the victim to be handed over the luggage of their son.
“However I also learned that they are very grateful for any sign of sympathy,” she wrote. “They were overwhelmed when I told them about the numerous emails I received from our sister city and even St. Marys, the sister city of Lienen, a neighbouring city of Lengerich.”
Hohmann-Assig included a message she received from former Mayor Don Wittwer. Wittwer wrote, “What a heartbreaking experience. Our sympathy goes out to his family and to all of those who knew him. We know that accidents can happen anywhere however this one happened to one of our own and that hurts.”
Hohmann-Assig said a delegation from Lienen will be on an exchange trip to their Sister City St. Marys in early September and they intend to pass on a memorial gift to Wapakoneta officials.