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Women pushed into ravine at German castle were recent University of Illinois graduates

Castle Neuschwanstein, a 19th century creation by Bavaria's fairy tale king Ludwig II and world renowned tourist attraction, is pictured in Hohenschwangau near Fuessen, southern Germany, on Monday, May 9, 2011.

Updated June 20 at 7:20 p.m.

MADISON, Wis.  — A U.S. hiker who fell to her death during a savage attack in Germany and a friend who tried to protect her had just graduated together from the University of Illinois with computer degrees.

Authorities haven’t released the names of anyone involved in the June 14 incident due to German privacy rules. But the Rev. Mark Zhang of Living Water Evangelical Church in Naperville, Illinois, said Tuesday that 21-year-old Eva Liu and her parents attended the church and Liu’s parents told him that she had been killed.

“It’s a very tough situation,” Zhang said. “Our words are powerless. We just mourn together with them and pray for them. When one family suffers, our whole church suffers.”

Weihan Chang of Normal, Illinois, said that his daughter, 22-year-old Kelsey Chang, survived the attack. She was released from a hospital on Sunday and was on a plane bound for home Tuesday. He said he hadn’t had a chance to talk with her very much.

“She’s pretty damaged by the incident,” Weihan Chang told The Associated Press. “It’s life-changing.”

According to authorities, Liu and Chang were hiking near Neuschwanstein castle in southern Germany on the afternoon of June 14. The two women encountered a 30-year-old man from Michigan on the path. He lured them onto a trail leading to a viewpoint, according to police. At some point he attacked Liu. When Chang tried to help her the man threw Chang off a cliff. She fell almost 165 feet (50 meters).

The man then apparently tried to sexually assault Liu before throwing her off the cliff as well. Mountain rescue teams were able to reach the women but Liu died in a hospital that night.

The Michigan man left the scene but was arrested nearby. A bystander said the man had scratches across his face but said nothing as police took him away to jail.

The man is suspected of murder, attempted murder and a sexual offense but prosecutors have said it may be three to four months before he’s indicted.

University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign Associate Chancellor Robin Kaler said in a statement late Monday evening that Liu and Chang both graduated from the school in May. Liu earned a bachelor’s degree in computer science. Chang earned a degree in computer engineering.

“Our University of Illinois family is mourning the senseless death of Ms. Liu and the attack on (her friend),” Kaler said. “Both had just graduated in May and should have been able to celebrate such an important accomplishment with the fear of such a tragic outcome.”

Barry Gin, another pastor at Living Water Evangelical Church in Naperville, said that Liu was a member of the church’s youth group before attending boarding school at the Illinois Mathematics and Science Academy in Aurora as a sophomore. Naperville Mayor Scott Wehrli planned a moment of silence in Liu’s honor at Tuesday night’s city council meeting.

Neuschwanstein, located in southern Bavaria close to Austria’s border, is one of Germany’s most popular tourist attractions.

It is the most famous of the castles built by King Ludwig II of Bavaria in the 19th century. Construction started in 1869 but was never completed. Ludwig died in 1886.


BERLIN — Police in southern Germany said Monday that an American tourist who was pushed into a ravine during an attack near Neuschwanstein castle in which her 21-year-old friend was killed has been released from the hospital.

The 22-year-old woman had tried to stop a 30-year-old Michigan man from allegedly assaulting her friend after luring them onto a trail leading to a viewpoint overlooking the famous castle, which draws more than a million tourists every year.

The older woman fell nearly 50 meters (165 feet) down a steep slope but was able to leave the hospital Friday, police spokesperson Holger Stabik said.

Both women were recovered by mountain rescuers shortly after the attack Wednesday, but the younger victim later died of her injuries in the hospital.

The suspect, whose name like those of the victims wasn’t released due to German privacy rules, was arrested shortly after the incident. He is being held on suspicion of murder, attempted murder and attempted sexual assault.

The women were recent graduates of the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign, the Daily Mail reported.

Stabik said police have received about two dozen photos and videos on a specially created website and are appealing for anyone with additional images of the suspect and victims to come forward.

Prosecutors said the women did not know the man until the incident.

A spokesperson for the prosecutors’ office in Kempten, Thomas Hörmann, said the investigation into the incident is continuing but it may be three or four months before authorities decide on an indictment.

Picture of Associated Press

Associated Press

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