Family, friends mourn 19-year-old Tacoma girl who drowned in Germany

More than 500 people gathered Saturday at Our Savior Lutheran Church in Summit to celebrate the life of Haley Rue, a 19-year-old Harvard student who died last month while traveling in Germany.

Friends, family members and former teachers filled the church to capacity, requiring ushers to open the choir loft and bring out folding chairs for extra seating.

“She was one in a billion,” said Tim Ihssen, the church’s youth director. “I don’t know anyone in this room who wouldn’t have voted for her for anything. I don’t know anyone in this room who would have been surprised at what she would become.”

Rue was valedictorian of her high school, Mount Rainier Lutheran High, where she was also president of the student council, an athlete and a nationally ranked speaker. Rue chose to attend Harvard, Ihssen said, but she was also accepted at three other Ivy League schools.

According to press accounts in the German media, Rue drowned July 18 after slipping and falling into a whirlpool at the base of one of the Buchenegger waterfalls in Germany’s Allgau region. One of her three hiking companions reportedly leaped in after her, but he was unable to save her and had to be rescued himself.

Rue had just finished her freshman year at Harvard and was spending the summer working as a travel writer and blogger for Let’s Go, a Harvard-affiliated travel guide company. In her writing, Rue said the job was a dream come true. Her mission, she said, was to “investigate all this tremendous world has to offer.”

Rue’s travels for Let’s Go also took her to Innsbruck, Vienna and Budapest.

Nearly all of those who offered memories of Rue at Saturday’s gathering remarked on her effervescent personality, her ability to be a goofball and the likelihood of her breaking into dance at any moment.

Rue’s cousin Emma Rue-Johns, 17, said Rue was her role model. “She was everything I wanted to be,” Rue-Johns said.

Rue was a sensitive listener and adviser, Rue-Johns said, but she was always ready to have fun.

“When you were with Haley, you always had to be prepared for a spontaneous dance party,” she said. “One of the things I liked most about her was her carefree and genuine laugh. She would throw her head back, and it was just pure happiness.”

Seven people traveled from Harvard for Saturday’s gathering, including Madeleine Currie, a resident dean of freshman students.

Currie said many students have stopped her on campus to express their sorrow over Rue’s death. “She brought joy wherever she went,” Currie said.