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The newspaper of The Johns Hopkins University April 26, 2004 | Vol. 33 No. 32
A Classmate Mourned

Tuesday morning's memorial service for Christopher Elser on the Keyser Quadrangle.

Hopkins community gathers to celebrate the life of slain undergrad

By Amy Cowles

On a beautiful, breezy Tuesday morning, 2,000 students gathered on Homewood's Keyser Quadrangle clad in flip-flops, shorts and other summertime clothes, dressed to remember 20-year-old Christopher Elser, a fun-loving junior whose life had ended tragically two days earlier.

Friends and classmates embraced Chris Elser's signature style with encouragement from his family, who had said that such easygoing clothes were exactly what Elser would have worn had he been there in the sun himself.

Remembered for his fantastic collection of T-shirts as well as his big heart, Elser died from knife wounds on April 18, the day after an early morning attack by an intruder in the off-campus apartment building occupied by his fraternity, Sigma Alpha Epsilon.

From fraternity brothers to family members, those who spoke of Elser at the hourlong service recalled his energy, sense of humor and his ability to make them feel better when they were down.

Opening the service, President William R. Brody said, "Over the weekend, at the hospital, my wife, Wendy, and I saw the tremendous outpouring of love and affection that came to Chris from his family, his friends and his fraternity brothers, and we thought, Here is someone whose years have been full of life indeed. ... Today, we feel intensely the loss of Chris Elser. But we can be sure that the love his family and his friends have for him will not diminish, and we take comfort in knowing that love will continue, as long as we remain."

Chris Elser and his father, Kip Elser, A&S '73, in 2003.

Thanking his son's classmates and fellow students for their love and support, Christopher's father, Kip Elser, said, "It's a beautiful day, and I wish we were somewhere else. This is a moment to stop, reflect, take a minute to be aware of where you are. Savor the moment. Don't rush quite so fast-straight through your young lives."

Chris' little sister, he said, would need their guidance and support, not just now but for years to come. "As Taylor said to us two days ago at the hospital, 'Who am I going to get now to teach me how to grow up ... and be cool?'"

Prior to the service, Elser's fraternity brothers passed out programs as some of his favorite country songs floated across the quad, courtesy of a CD compiled by Taylor. The bright blue flag of Elser's home state, South Carolina, fluttered at the foot of Gilman Hall near a collage of photos of Elser. Students carried flowers, and many in the Greek community wore blue ribbons pinned to their shirts.

The service and the luncheon that followed in the Glass Pavilion were among many tributes to Chris in the days after his death. A candlelight vigil was held on the Keyser Quad April 21. The Hopkins Choral Society, the Baltimore School for the Arts Chamber Choir and the Hopkins Symphony Orchestra planned a performance of the Mozart Requiem the evening of April 24 at the Bunting-Meyerhoff Interfaith Center.

Elser and his girlfriend, Kyra Appleby.

The weekend's Spring Fair also was dedicated to Elser. In addition to those events, the student-run DailyJolt@Hopkins Web site created a special page, online at

The site features photos and memories of Elser submitted by friends. The university's Remembering Chris Elser site is at

A memorial service in South Carolina was held Friday morning at the Steeple Chase Museum in Elser's hometown of Camden.

In pursuing his education at Johns Hopkins, Elser followed in the footsteps of his father, who graduated in 1973. The younger Elser also had a close relationship with two of his father's Hopkins classmates, James P. MacGuire, who was Christopher Elser's godfather, and Patrick Smithwick Jr., both of whom spoke at the Homewood memorial service. Smithwick read a poem he wrote about his friend's son, recalling how Elser had a way of "giving off a sense of dynamic goodwill at any time of day or night." He spoke of Elser's mischievous side, how he enjoyed a good prank and enjoyed a day with Smithwick on his farm, laughing " at the absurdity of bouncing in a 30-year-old truck around a field putting up fences for a gray-haired Hopkins classmate" of his father.

Smithwick's words evoked what many speakers at the Homewood memorial service expressed about how to remember Elser: "We will most honor Christopher by living every shimmering moment to the fullest. By exuding positive energy and creative ideas. By appreciating every electric moment of life. That's what Christopher did so well."

In addition to his father and sister, Elser is survived by his mother, Rhetta Elser. Memorial contributions can be made to the Christopher B. Elser Scholarship Fund.

To address students' concerns about safety on and off campus, the university is hosting a town hall-style forum at 4 p.m. today, April 26, in Shriver Hall Auditorium.


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