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German exchange student dies in Rock Hill

Hannah Hinrichsen's friends spent Thursday afternoon tearfully finishing a still-life drawing she had begun earlier this month.

The students had learned that morning that Hinrichsen, an 11th-grade foreign exchange student from Germany whose beaming smile and outgoing personality won over dozens of friends and teachers in her two months at South Pointe High School, died Wednesday.

The 16-year-old had stayed home from school that day with a headache and was feeling nauseous, according to a Rock Hill Police report. During the day, Hinrichsen's host mother went to check on her to see if she was hungry and found her dead, the report stated.

Authorities still are trying to determine a cause of death.

On Thursday, the entire campus mourned the “tragic, unexpected loss,” Principal Al Leonard said.

Hinrichsen moved to Rock Hill from Germany during the summer to be an exchange student at the high school off Neely Road in Rock Hill. She was one of two exchange students staying with host Barbara Moseley, according to district officials. Moseley couldn't be reached Thursday.

Hinrichsen didn't know many people at first. But after school started in August, she made new friends almost daily.

She quickly was “immersed in student life,” Leonard said. She joined chorus and took several art classes. She was looking forward to joining the drama club next semester.

“Our hearts go out to Hannah's biological family on the other side of the world and to her host family,” Leonard said after announcing the news to hundreds of students and employees.

All day Thursday, counselors consoled students, many of whom were too distraught to focus on their lessons. Groups gathered in rooms around campus to grieve.

Dozens of Hinrichsen's friends huddled in a hallway outside the chorus room sharing memories of Hannah, trading cell phone photos of her and crying on each others' shoulders.

“It's going to be so sad doing stuff outside of school,” said Heather Bechtler, 16. “She was in our group so much. It just feels like a missing piece of a puzzle. Even though we didn't know her that long, it feels like she's been with us all along.”

Hinrichsen always was cracking jokes, and came up with nicknames for nearly all her friends.

“She said she'd call me Yummy,” said 14-year-old Yemi Salami, “because I'm a little delicious person she could put in her pocket.”

Tyrone Thompson told Hinrichsen about a guy nick-named Pop Lock who had beaten him in a dance contest. She started calling Tyrone “Zip Lock.” “She said it's cause I'm zippy,” he said.

“I met her at lunch,” said Hannah Hendersen, 15. “I'll never forget ... she said ‘I've been here two weeks, and I've had so much fast food, I've gained eight pounds.'”

Carowinds was one of her favorite places.

“She convinced me to ride in the front seat of the Carolina Cobra,” Bechtler said. “You can't say no to her. We were at the, top and I was like, Hannah why are we doing this? She said ‘I don't know, because we're Heather and Hannah.'” Then the ride went backward up another steep climb. “Hannah said ‘Heather why are we doing this?' I said because we're Hannah and Heather.”

It was tough for Hinrichsen's friends to say what they'd miss most.

“Hannah's presence,” they said. “Her happiness.”

“She was always excited about something,” said D.J. Durham, 17. “You can't be upset when you see that smile.”

Groups across campus are planning memorials.

The students in Beverly Laney's chorus class were so distraught that Laney nearly canceled a performance in Columbia today that will be televised on S.C. ETV.

“We decided to go and sing in her memory,” Laney said.

Hinrichsen often wore her hair up with a scarf around her neck, skinny jeans and a pair of Chuck Taylor shoes by Converse. Bechtler and others plan to dress that way Monday in her honor.

John Penyak, 15, met Hinrichsen hanging out with a group of friends at Cracker Barrel. “I bought a bag of toy dinosaurs … and we started playing together,” he said. He knew then they'd be best friends.

Hinrichsen was planning to attend a Halloween party at Penyak's house tonight. Penyak said he nearly canceled it but then decided that Hinrichsen wouldn't want that. Now it'll be a memorial, after which friends will celebrate her life. They hope to write messages on helium balloons and release them in the sky.

Later, they plan to contact her family in Germany.

After school Tuesday afternoon, Bechtler met Hinrichsen outside and chatted for a while before Heather's ride arrived.

“She said ‘Oh, no, Heather. I love you, Heather.' Then she said, ‘I'll see you tomorrow.'

“That was the last time I talked to her.”

Shawn Cetrone 803-329-4072

Christy Mullins 803-329-4062

Kimberly Dick 803-329-4082