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Student dies in frat house fire at UMSL

Thursday, November 30, 2006

Unidentified people walked past the Pi Kappa Alpha fraternity house in St. Louis Wednesday. A fire at the house near the University of Missouri-St. Louis campus killed a student early Wednesday.
(Odell Mitchell Jr. ~ St. Louis Post-Dispatch)
ST. LOUIS -- The members of Pi Kappa Alpha didn't talk to reporters after their fraternity brother died inside their burning fraternity house here Wednesday. But they did make a statement.

Fraternity members dragged a charred suit of armor from near the wreckage of the house and placed it on a sidewalk. The blackened figure faced out toward the crowd of reporters, police officers and firetrucks and seemed to say: We still stand tall.

Brian Schlittler, a 25-year-old senior at the University of Missouri-St. Louis, died in the early morning blaze that completely engulfed the small brick and wood-frame fraternity house.

Schlittler lived on the second story of the house and was trapped upstairs after the blaze broke out, said Bel-Ridge Police Chief Gordon Brock. No one else was injured, and investigators were trying to determine the origin of the blaze, Brock said.

"It's a tragedy," university spokesman Bob Samples said. "We want to find out how it happened and work from there."

Brock said one of the residents of the house arrived home at 3:30 a.m. to find a couch on fire in the living room. The student ran through the house, knocking on the bedroom doors of the other two residents.

The student told police he roused Schlittler, who said something in return, indicating to his housemate that he was preparing to leave, Brock said.

"The other two left the house and turned around to see that Schlittler hadn't followed," Brock said. "By the time they turned around, it was too rough to go back in there."

Brock said Schlittler's bedroom was upstairs, and flames blocked his passage downstairs. Schlittler was a large man, and the only windows upstairs were too narrow to allow his escape.

The heat from the fire was extreme -- a small car parked in the house's driveway was virtually melted by the heat.

Soon after the fire, dozens of students began congregating outside the fraternity house, many of them crying. Samples said counselors were being brought in to help console students, faculty and staff.

Carelene Hammond, co-owner of Victor and Carelene Distributors liquor store next to the fraternity house, remembered Schlittler as a kindly young man.

"He took care of everything over there," Hammond said. "He was a nice, jolly little guy."

Schlittler gave an interview this summer to the Current student newspaper in which he praised living in the fraternity house.

"Living in the house has made me respect it more and has brought me closer to the fraternity," Schlittler told the paper.

"One of the disadvantages is that the house is like 70 years old and it has been fixed up quite a bit," Schlittler said.

Students said they were notified of Schlittler's death in a campuswide e-mail Wednesday morning.

Student Kristina Wilhelm, 24, said she had been to a few parties at the fraternity house. She was stunned when she opened her e-mail and learned of the fire and Schlittler's death.

"It's just kind of shocking to find this all out," she said.

The Pi Kappa Alpha Web site lists 36 active members. Samples described the fraternity, known as "Pike," as a small one. It actually has two houses, the other with four occupants, he said.

The St. Louis campus is one of four in the University of Missouri system. The others are in Columbia, Rolla and Kansas City. Missouri-St. Louis has enrollment of 16,000 students, making it the third-largest campus in the state.

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