Aaron Loether, University of Delaware Graduate Student, Dies at 28

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Aaron Loether, a 28-year-old graduate teaching assistant and Ph.D. student at the University of Delaware, died June 20 after a riptide carried him away from shore in Costa Rica, where he was vacationing with his family.

Aaron Loether | Photo Courtesy of the University of Delaware

Aaron Loether’s brother, Zack Loether, also lost control in the water, but two strangers rescued him after an hour in the current. He has since made a full recovery. The Red Cross and Coast Guard did not locate Loether’s body until June 23, when it was spotted half a mile down the beach from the family’s resort.

Loether’s wife, Annie Loether (née Horlick), was in Costa Rica when the tragedy occurred. Her parents, Sally Sherwood and Geoffrey Horlick, flew in on June 22 to be with the Loethers during the recovery process. The families remained in Costa Rica until June 28, when they flew back to the U.S.

Annie and Aaron met while attending college at Drew University. Loether, who grew up in Pittsburgh, graduated in 2011 with a bachelor’s degree in physics and mathematics. The couple married in 2014, living in Elkton, Md., 10 minutes from Newark, Del., where he attended graduate school, studying condensed matter and material physics.

At the university, Loether researched how light changes the structure of matter, co-authoring multiple papers and was named a finalist of the Daciar-Bata Prize in September 2016 for best student research paper in physics or astronomy.

On June 29, the family held the first of two memorial services at Temple Brith Achim in King of Prussia. A Pittsburgh-area ceremony was held July 2 at Temple Ohav Shalom.

For the Philadelphia-area service, Loether’s Pittsburgh family called in Rabbi Sharyn Henry of Pittsburgh’s Rodef Shalom Congregation and Cantor Leon Sher to lead the ceremony.

Henry repeatedly acknowledged the sorrow facing the crowd. “If only there were sufficient words to explain the unimaginable, to bring comfort to you, Aaron’s family and closest friends,” she said. “If only there were words, or a balm, that would take the anguish.”

Interspersed in Henry’s speech were musical performances from Sher and a sequence of addresses from Loether’s loved ones.

As the ceremony drew to a close and Henry prepared to lead the Kaddish, she reflected on the purpose of the prayer.

She explained, “precisely when we can’t imagine being grateful, we look deep into our hearts and know that to live without him is better than never to have lived with him, and for that, we are eternally and immeasurably grateful.”

The printed program for the service included lighthearted comments about Loether. According to the pamphlet, Loether was bad at the marching part of marching band and disliked mushrooms, but he excelled at giving hugs and loved the game Dungeons & Dragons.

Along with his wife, parents-in-law and brother Zack, Loether is survived by brother Joseph, parents Susan and Richard Loether, two grandmothers and many aunts, uncles, cousins and friends.