6-year-old from Va. part of `best family'

Daniel Bentrem

Harbor Tragedy : The Victims

March 09, 2004|By Tricia Bishop | Tricia Bishop,SUN STAFF

Dark-haired Daniel Bentrem was a fixture in the family's Harrisonburg, Va., front yard, friends said, shooting baskets with his father or riding bikes with his two sisters, who sing in a local choir.

"They swang and played outside, and swam together," said Cindy Elyard, who lives next door to the Bentrems, described by their neighbors as a close and loving family.

Six-year-old Daniel is among three people missing and presumed dead yesterday after a Seaport Taxi overturned Saturday afternoon in the Inner Harbor.

Daniel's parents, Elizabeth and George A. Bentrem II, and his 7-year-old sister, Katharine, were rescued. His eldest sister, 8-year-old Sarah, was in critical condition at University of Maryland Medical Center, spokesman Bill Seiler said.

The Bentrems, who declined to be interviewed, were vacationing in Baltimore for the weekend after postponing the trip one week.

Elyard said her 4-year-old son, Brandon, worshipped Daniel.

"I'm devastated," Elyard said. "I don't know how I'm going to tell my little boy. Daniel was his best friend."

She took flowers to the Bentrems' house yesterday and placed them in their yard so that they would know she was thinking of them.

Karim Altaii, who lives across the street from the Bentrems and visited them in Baltimore after the accident, called them the "best family" he has ever known. He met them in April when they welcomed him, his wife and their daughter, Jenna, 3, to the neighborhood with a basket of fruit and cheese.

"They are people that you cannot not love," said Altaii, a mechanical engineering professor at James Madison University. "My daughter, Jenna, they are her world. They treat her like their own sister."

The Bentrems have also opened their home to a student from nearby Eastern Mennonite University, Altaii said, incorporating him into their family. Altaii brought the student to Baltimore with him, where Elizabeth Bentrem comforted him.

"She's an angel," Altaii said. "She looked shaken. She looked weak, but at the same time, she showed that she has an inner peace. I don't know how long that will last."

George Bentrem's uncle, Frank Bentrem of Elizabethtown, Pa., told the Lancaster New Era that his nephew made several attempts to rescue his family.

"George swam through a door in the boat and came up first. It was cold, very cold, but my nephew is a strong swimmer. He went down and found his wife upside down - it was all disoriented - and brought her up and on top of the boat," Frank Bentrem said.

"Somehow, the boy and [his mother] got separated," he said. "Katie got to the surface."

Altaii said Elizabeth Bentrem told him that "Daniel is in God's hands."

Elizabeth Bentrem home schools her children. Her husband is a doctor with a nearby family-practice clinic. When he got home from work, he and the children often played basketball in their driveway, said neighbor Betty Ackerman.

The Bentrems belong to the First Assembly of God church, Altaii said. "They need prayers right now; they just need prayers," he said.

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