Li Po Chun mourns death of East Timor student

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 09 June, 2007, 12:00am
UPDATED : Saturday, 09 June, 2007, 12:00am

Staff and pupils of Li Po Chun United World College are mourning the loss of former student Jonia Guterres who drowned in Upper Saranak Lake in New York State.

Guterres, 19, a Fulbright Scholar, who had just completed her first year at St Lawrence University, had begun a summer job as a student worker at the university's Canaras Conference Centre.

New York State police said camp employees began searching for Guterres after she was reported missing at 9.30pm last Saturday and her clothes were found on a floating platform on the west shore of the lake.

Police divers were sent to the scene where they found her body in about eight feet of water at 11pm.

She had last been seen at about 1pm sitting on the floating platform inside a roped-off swimming area.

An autopsy found she died from asphyxiation due to freshwater drowning. There was no evidence of foul play.

The East Timor native was the first scholarship student selected by the Blair Forster Memorial Trust to complete a two-year International Baccalaureate programme at an international school in Hong Kong.

Stephen Codrington, principal of Li Po Chun UWC, Ma On Shan, said she was a courageous woman who never viewed herself as a victim of the precarious situation in East Timor.

'Jonia was a happy, vivacious, energetic, courageous young woman,' said Dr Codrington. 'She always wore a big smile on her face.

'She was the first of the students we accepted from East Timor. She was always optimistic and so grateful for the opportunities that she had been given. She was a pretty special person, an absolute gem.

'Everyone who had the privilege of knowing Jonia, as we did, will be shocked and saddened by the sudden loss. Our world is poorer because of this tragedy.'

John Green, director of studies at Li Po Chun UWC and a trustee of the Blair Forster Memorial Trust that selected Guterres in 2004, said she always faced obstacles head on.

'I was privileged to have so many wonderful memories of the two years she spent here. I remember in one class during her first semester, when her English was not very good,' Mr Green said.

'The group was studying a text together and I asked for volunteers to read it out loud, expecting one of our native English speakers to respond, but it was Jonia's hand that shot up first; always willing to take on a challenge. I think what is remarkable is just how many people's lives she touched in her few short years.'

Tributes have been pouring in at the St Lawrence University website from friends and colleagues around the world. A memorial service was held on campus on Wednesday.