Visitor slain in Nanakuli a 'brilliant' student
By Dan Nakaso and Rod Ohira
Advertiser Staff Writers
Christopher Reuther, who died two days after he was beaten at a Nanakuli beach, was staring straight into a bright future with law school offers from the University of Hawai'i and Tulane University.
He came to the Islands to give UH a serious look. "He was a very promising guy," said Avi Soifer, dean of UH's William S. Richardson law school. "We are tremendously saddened that this very promising would-be law student would be snatched away."
The 34-year-old North Carolina man was taking photographs April 22 at Zablan Beach Park when police say he crossed paths with Less Schnabel Jr., 21, of Nanakuli, who last night was charged with manslaughter in connection with Reuther's death.
According to a police probable-cause affidavit, Schnabel "was positively identified by photographic lineup as the person who punched Christopher Reuther without provocation in the area of his left ear, causing him to collapse and go unresponsive."
Additional details of what took place at the beach park are not in the police affidavit, but police investigated reports that the beating was prompted because Reuther snapped a photo of Schnabel without permission.
The affidavit said Reuther had arrived on O'ahu that day, rented a vehicle and had gone to a lu'au on the Leeward Coast. Police said after the lu'au, Reuther went looking for a place to camp for the evening and stopped at the beach park, at 89-090 Laumania Ave., where the beating occurred.
A paramedic team was sent to Zablan Beach before midnight on April 22 and took Reuther to Hawai'i Medical Center-West in Waipahu in critical condition, said Bryan Cheplic, spokesman for the city Emergency Services Department.
Reuther was transferred to HMC-East the following day and was pronounced dead there at 11:10 a.m. April 24, police said.
Based on the photographic identification at the scene, detectives and Crime Reduction Unit officers tracked Schnabel to his mother's Nanakuli residence, where he was arrested at 10 a.m. Wednesday.
An April 30 autopsy determined the cause of death as a traumatic hemorrhage due to blunt force trauma to the head.
In addition to manslaughter, Schnabel is charged with unauthorized entry into a motor vehicle. He has an initial appearance at District Court today and a preliminary hearing tentatively scheduled for Tuesday. Bail is $100,000.
Police also arrested Schnabel on two outstanding warrants totalling $350.
Schnabel was a member of the Nanakuli High School football team's backfield and helped lead the team to the 2002 O'ahu Interscholastic Association White title, said Hugh Taufaasau, Nanakuli High's athletic director.
Reuther had a nearly full-ride scholarship to Tulane, his friends said.
And the UH law school wanted Reuther to enroll this fall in the highly competitive environmental law program, which last year was honored as an outstanding institutional program by the American Bar Association, Soifer said.
UH law school students planned to meet Reuther on April 23 to try to persuade him to attend school here, but Reuther never showed up.
Before his death, UH law students visited him at HMC-East, and one of them held a telephone to Reuther's ear so he could hear his mother's voice from North Carolina, Soifer said. Another law school student, a former Honolulu police officer, found out that Reuther had been attacked in Nanakuli and got UH law students involved in helping Reuther's sister and aunt, who had arrived on O'ahu.
Instead of being courted at the law school's annual open house on April 24, faculty and students observed a moment of silence in honor of Reuther, the dean said.
"He had been admitted to our law school," Soifer said. "Sadly, he never got to do so."
Reuther grew up in Asheville, N.C., said his long-time friend, Marlo Goldstein, who is also from North Carolina.
He graduated from North Carolina School of Science and Mathematics in Durham, N.C., and then graduated with dual degrees in journalism and environmental science from the University of North Carolina, she said.
"The kid is brilliant," said Goldstein in a telephone interview. "He was so smart."
Sarah Bruce, his roommate and friend, wrote in an e-mail that Reuther "was an amazing person." At UH he was planning "to work on environmental justice and international environmental law so as to help protect islanders all over the world from the effects of climate change."
Reuther worked as the senior photo editor for an environmental health journal in North Carolina's Research Triangle Park, but dreamed of changing environmental policy and cleaning up the planet, Goldstein said.
"He was just a really well-rounded, diverse, interesting person," she said. "Everyone who met Chris loved him. He had so many friends."
The students and faculty in Tulane apparently wanted Reuther just as badly as UH, she said. Reuther had just returned from a recruiting trip to Tulane where the people of New Orleans "impressed the pants off him," Goldstein said. "But per everyone's advice, he wasn't ruling out the program in Hawai'i, so he was headed out the next morning to check it out."
On O'ahu, Reuther rented a convertible, went to a lu'au and wanted to visit a local beach, she said.
After they got Reuther's camera back from Honolulu police, Reuther's sister, aunt and Goldstein saw that he took about 100 photos in his short time in the Islands.
"From the pictures, it looked like he had a great time at the lu'au," Goldstein said.
Goldstein flew to O'ahu on April 26 to be with Reuther's sister and aunt.
"Chris brought so much light to our lives. And up until the very last moment, he lived his life with gusto and joie de vivre ... taking chances, being spontaneous and being open and loving to anyone who showed him the same," Goldstein said.