Mourners remember, honor shooting victims

Service recalls the lives of Harford County teacher and her 17-year-old son

May 01, 2004|By Lane Harvey Brown | Lane Harvey Brown,SUN STAFF

More than 200 friends and family members gathered yesterday in Baynesville to remember Harford County teacher Rita K. Hofler and Kevin J. Gehring, a mother and son who were slain this week.

At Immaculate Heart of Mary Roman Catholic Church, where Hofler was baptized and attended school, mourners were reminded of the devotion to others that the pair embodied.

"To those who she touched as students, she was more than just a teacher to them, she was someone who cared," said the Rev. Michael Carrion, who gave the homily, adding that Hofler shared her joy of knowledge with love.

Samantha Rose, a ninth-grader at Susquehannock High School in Shrewsbury Township, Pa., where Gehring was a junior, read a poem she wrote to her friend, whom she described as a person whose "smile could light up a roomful of tears."

Some in the crowd held each other through quiet tears, while others studied the deep blues and reds of the stained-glass windows that frame the sanctuary.

And many shook their heads sadly as Carrion talked about feelings of loss magnified by "deaths that were brought about by anger and violence."

Hofler, 48, and her 17-year-old son were fatally shot Sunday at the Shrewsbury Township, home of her estranged husband, Donald B. Hofler, a retired Loyola College professor who then attempted to kill himself with an overdose of prescription medication, police said. He has been charged with criminal homicide in the two slayings.

Donald Hofler was transferred from York Hospital to York County Prison on Wednesday. He is being held there without bail.

With two friends beside her at the lectern, Samantha Rose recalled talking with Gehring, playing with his hair and working through the duller days of high school.

She said she will never understand the killer's actions, "how someone could be so mean and hurt someone so young. You were only 17."

The pews were filled by students, teachers and families from Susquehannock High and North Bend Elementary School, where Hofler taught first grade this year.

"She was awesome. She was one of the good ones," said Jodi Mayo, who was a room mother last year in Hofler's classroom. "She's been doing this 19 years, but you'd never know. It was like teaching her first year; she was so enthusiastic."

Mayo's daughters - Samantha, a fourth-grader, and Jami, a third-grader - were Hofler's pupils and remembered popcorn parties, class movies that Hofler filmed and how much fun she made schoolwork. Samantha said she wants to be a teacher when she grows up.

"I want to be just like her," she said of her former teacher.

Deidre Diffenderfer, a ninth-grader at Susquehannock High, said Gehring was the first person at the high school to befriend her and made her feel welcome as a freshman.

"He always wanted to help everybody. He was always laughing," Diffenderfer said, adding that he loved skateboarding and driving his car. "He would always take anybody anywhere they wanted to go."

She added how hard it is to lose a close - and young - friend.

"You just don't watch them get buried like this," she said, her voice breaking.

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