Hundreds of mourners stood shoulder-to-shoulder filling a South Baltimore funeral home Saturday to remember 20-year-old Aaron Laciny as a passionate learner who seemed destined for "wonderful things."
Laciny was killed while riding his bike on Charles Street in Towson around 10:30 p.m. on June 19. At least two vehicles hit him; police are still investigating after a person told authorities Wednesday that their vehicle struck what they called debris on that road about that time.
At the memorial, Fred Paraskevoudakis, a microbiology professor who taught Laciny at Baltimore City Community College, spoke of his former student's drive to tackle as many math and science projects as he could — on everything from plant chemistry to lead contamination to AIDS.
"He did that for fun," Paraskevoudakis said. "This boy would have done wonderful things."
Laciny graduated from BCCC in May and was working as an intern this summer at the Johns Hopkins University's NanoEnergy Laboratory. He dreamed of becoming a math professor one day, Paraskevoudakis said.
Teachers and classmates who spoke at the memorial said Laciny didn't always envision himself going to college, having seen himself as stuck in poverty. He grew up in Federal Hill and lived there with his mother and six siblings.
But once he began studying at BCCC, his passion and ambition emerged, they said.
He won many awards at the college and was devoted to conducting research and sharing it with others, Paraskevoudakis said.
"I was impressed by his presence," Paraskevoudakis said. "You could easily tell he had a passion for his subject and a way to communicate that to a lay person."
Paraskevoudakis shared an e-mail from BCCC math and engineering professor Marianna Gleger, who is out of the country, calling Laciny an "outstanding scholar" who worked as her assistant leading a group of 50 students in science, engineering and math. She called him "a strong advocate for the BCCC STEM program, spreading the word to the broader community."
Other professors called him "selfless," "giving" and "committed," said Bryan Perry, chief of staff to the community college's president, Gordon F. May.
"The tragedy is we know that the best was yet to come," Perry said.
Classmate Jolynn Frendo said Laciny was a constant source of inspiration, with his 4.0 grade point average, and also encouragement. When she felt like giving up, he urged her on, she said.
"I always tried to keep up with him, and he always supported me," she said.
At the Hopkins lab, he was working on research to make solar cell technology more affordable. Once he finished the internship, he planned to bike to Maine and back.
As his friends spoke Saturday, photos of Laciny flashed across a TV screen — with his mop of dark brown curls under a graduation cap at BCCC, and his smile in front of a mountaintop view.
Printouts of a poem he wrote called "Catching a Butterfly," describing a boy learning to overcome his fears, were handed out as well as cards inscribed with a quote from Laciny's favorite book, "The Alchemist" — "I have inside me the winds, the deserts, the oceans, the stars, and everything created in the universe."
Officials at the Charles L. Stevens Funeral Home said about 900 people attended the memorial and the visitation that preceded it.
Pastor Brian Zimmerman, who led the ceremony, urged Laciny's friends to support his family as they grieve him. A fundraising page on the website YouCaring.com has raised more than $21,000 for the family, surpassing a $15,000 goal. The family has encouraged mourners to donate to local cycling advocacy group Bikemore in Laciny's memory.
"He was a gift," Zimmerman said of Laciny. "He was a true inspiration to so many, as this room testifies."