When Dumbarton Middle School teacher Justin DePrima got a text earlier this week from a colleague informing him that his former student, Louis Lowenthal, was in a coma, his reaction, like so many others', was one of shock.
But as he began to wrap his head around the tragedy that took the life of one the previous year's brightest students, DePrima, an English teacher, needed only to look as far as his computer desktop for a reminder of the student who left a mark everywhere he went.
Louis, a 14-year-old Stoneleigh resident who died earlier this week after being rushed to the hospital following a Sunday morning swim practice with his North Baltimore Aquatic Club team at Meadowbrook, won a Baltimore County writing contest last spring for a memoir he wrote about swimming's importance in his life.
"The opening had to do with his grandfather being, I think, a Navy SEAL; how dangerous life in the water was for his grandfather, and how his grandfather survived through all of that," DePrima said. "Then to have him write with such innocence about how he doesn't have to worry about all that like his grandfather, he just has to swim—it's just so hard to see a kid in his writing, so innocent, so young, to just lose his life at such a young age."
Both at Towson High, where Louis was a freshman this fall, and his alma mater, Dumbarton, teachers and classmates are beginning a grieving process that is as deep as it is unexpected.
As part of a group dubbed the Towson Seven, Louis had to check into the front office at Dumbarton every morning in lieu of attending homeroom.
The seven students took a first-period math class at Towson High School, and Louis, then in eighth grade, was their unofficial leader, arriving with the close-knit group of students at 9 o'clock each morning with a smile on his face and a tasseled knit hat atop his curly hair.
Their arrival was a bright spot in the day of Charlene Peterson, the front office secretary at Dumbarton, who on Friday fondly recalled Louis as a smart student with an energy and willingness to help with any and all tasks
"It's just very, very tragic when a young person goes way before their time, and it's difficult for our faculty, for the kids," Jane Barranger, principal of Towson High School, said. "He was a freshman, and just a very, very talented great young man. He really was wise beyond his years."
Barranger recalled a classroom observation she conducted earlier this year, in which a ninth-grade English class was charged with comparing and contrasting two disparate and difficult pieces of literature.
The principal couldn't recall the stories, but she did remember that in a class that impressed her with its level of discourse, it was Louis' responses that made an impression.
"He stood out, but he also blended in so well," she said.
DePrima said his proficiency in math and science was even more renowned.
Kelly Erdman, principal at Dumbarton Middle School, said Louis was quickly recognized as "beyond his years in science" and allowed to take an advanced online course while at Dumbarton.
Louis played the viola, took art classes, and studied Chinese, Barranger said.
But while he excelled in the classroom, Lowenthal was most at home in the water.
George Kennedy, the Johns Hopkins swim coach who lives in Anneslie and also coached Louis with the Stoneleigh Sharks club team, said Louis may not have had Division 1 talent, but certainly had a Division 1 heart.
"Louis was just a wonderful young man, really intelligent, and had a warm smile," Kennedy said. "I always felt a strong connection with him because of that smile. I always feel that if you start a practice with a smile, everything else will be good, too."
Kennedy said he has been asked to speak Tuesday at a celebration of life the family is holding for Louis at 3:15 p.m. in the Kraushaar Auditorium at Goucher College.
"Once Tuesday rolls around, I think that will make it more real and a little more comforting in a way, when you're surrounded by all those people who cared about him or were involved in his life," DePrima ssaid.
Barranger believes the celebration of life will be an integral part of her students' grieving process.
"I know in the days ahead, the kids will really feel his loss, but I think the parents, by having the celebration of life, will be moving towards all the positive things this young man did and help them move forward," Barranger said.