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Monday, May 27, 2024

Five days after his mysterious death, Oscar Ahumuza was looking down. His friends sat below, heads bowed and eyes glistening. A Ugandan flag hung at the front of the room.

Ahumuza, back for an hour as a screen projection, smiled at the 400 or so people gathered to honor him in the Rion Ballroom on Thursday afternoon.

Ahumuza died Saturday night after jumping into the murky water of Lake Wauburg.

The memorial was broadcast on the Internet so Ahumuza's family members, who live in Uganda, could see the service, said UF President Bernie Machen in an interview before his speech.

Ahumuza grew up in Uganda and attended high school in Wales. The United World College, a merit-based, global education organization sponsored his admission to UF.

"He has friends mourning him all over the globe," Machen said during his tribute. "Oscar's death is a puzzle for all of us. It's a baffling loss."

Ahumuza's parents had not seen him in 15 years, said Mary Kay Schneider, UF associate dean of students.

Oscar Ahumuza was a 21-year-old UF mechanical engineering sophomore with good grades and a steady girlfriend. He was a member of Chi Alpha Christian Fellowship, the African Student Union and UF's club soccer team.

Saturday morning, Ahumuza went to Lake Wauburg for a Chi Alpha barbeque, said Steve Michaels, the group's minister.

Trying to catch a football, Ahumuza jumped off the lake's dock feet first into the water below. Minutes later, a lifeguard pulled him out of the water, dragged him to shore and performed CPR. An ambulance took him to Shands at UF where he was pronounced dead at 11 p.m.

His cause of death is still unknown.

"When we first saw him, he had a pulse. He was breathing," Michaels said, clutching a Bible to his chest. "The doctors said he didn't suffer. He was unconscious most of the time."

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Ahumuza's girlfriend, Erica Trejo, said she was with Ahumuza the night before he died.

"It couldn't have been any better or any worse than it was," she said before the service.

Trejo said she met Ahumuza a year ago at Gator Corner. She was immediately captivated by his smile and contagious laugh.

Ahumuza was a devout Christian and encouraged Trejo to be just as strong in her faith, she said.

"He was more than I expected in every way," she said.

She said she was deeply shocked and devastated when she first heard the news but then felt at peace.

"I know that he's being adored by his maker, just like he's always wanted," Trejo said in a speech.

Ernest Chigama, a close friend of Ahumuza, said Ahumuza's goal was to work for the United Nations on behalf of Africa.

"I'm going to remember him forever," Chigama said. "I'll just try to stand for what he stood for."

Nathan Wangusi, another friend of Ahumuza, said it's African tradition for a community to support the family of a lost loved one.

A bereavement fund has been established to collect money for Ahumuza's family in Uganda and to cover his funeral costs. Money will also be donated to Invisible Children, the charity Ahumuza supported for Ugandan youth.

At the end of his speech, Wangusi read a poem written by Ahumuza that was published on Poetry.com a few months ago:

"oh my shadow

that you linger around and see me do all that I do

that even when all is gone u are by me

count me in when your turn comes

As time draws near for me to face my maker

U'll be by my side

My shadow…and it fades"

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