At the age of 21, Sarah Papenheim from Minnesota loved studying at the Erasmus University in Rotterdam in the Netherlands. She felt lucky to be studying in Europe and was quick to make friends and do some social networking as soon as she arrived.
Sarah had told her mother about a guy around the same age as her who lived in the same apartment where she stayed. She had told her mom, Donee Odegard, that the guy freaked her out sometimes, even though the two were friends, and that she was scared of him, but she never expected anything bad to happen…
One of the first things Sarah’s mother told police was that her daughter was passionate about music and was a talented drummer. She was a regular fixture in the amateur Minnesota music scene and had even been booked for a performance back home over the Christmas period. Sadly, she never made it to that performance even though her ticket was booked.
Sarah met Nico online on a gaming platform, and the two immediately hit it off and felt a special connection with each other. Nico soon became Sarah’s boyfriend, and that’s when she decided to go and study for her degree in psychology in Holland instead of in Minnesota. She traveled to Holland to meet Nico initially, and she knew he would look after her during her time studying there.
Sarah’s family had been all but torn apart a few years before her going to study in Europe when her brother, who was 21 at the time, committed suicide. He had been struggling with depression and mental health issues for years and that sadly culminated in his untimely death. When police officers knocked on Odegard’s door, she had a bad feeling about what they were about to tell her.
Having asked her a few questions about her daughter, the two officers were then tasked with telling Mrs Odegard that her daughter had been stabbed and beaten to death in Holland. “He was sad to inform me that my beautiful daughter had passed. I kind of knew it was coming when you have done this before,” said Odegard in an interview with Good Morning America.
A bunch of students lived in the apartment building where Sarah was staying. She was reportedly quite friendly with Joel Schelling, a man who lived in the same apartment. Just about an hour after Sarah’s body was found by police in Holland, they arrested Schelling at the Eindhoven train station around 60 miles from Rotterdam.
According to Odegard, Schelling was a cello player and often talked about music with Sarah when he went to chat with her. “They loved talking about music,” Odegard said. “There were times he would have highs and lows,” she said according to an ABC report. But no one had any idea that this man had any murderous intentions.
Odegard had cause for concern following a worrying phone she had recently with her daughter. During that call, as Odegard explained, “Nothing concerned me until the last time I talked to her when she told me this story. “She said, ‘Mommy he did this. He is acting strange.'” Odegard then gave Sarah some advice.
Sarah’s mother’s sound advice to her daughter was “not be around him.” However, as Odegard explained, Sarah told her, “Mom, he is my friend. I am his only friend. He would get angry, but I can always talk him down and change his mind,” she relayed. But Sarah failed to heed that advice, and it ended up costing her her life.
Odegard also made a special mention about Sarah’s boyfriend Nico, who she thanked for giving his support during such hard times. “He has been a rock for her,” Odegard said. “He was there when my son committed suicide; he has been there for her so much. I don’t know what would have happened for both of us if he wasn’t there. He helped us so much.” Nico was also reportedly devastated by the murder of his girlfriend.
Sarah’s mom wasn’t the only person she had told about the weird roommate. A few weeks prior to her death she had texted a friend back home named Adam Pryor. “My roommate told me he’s gonna kill 3 people. So I’m gonna have to go to the police,” Sarah said in an online conversation that Pryor shared with Cosmopolitan. She never went to the police with her concerns and Pryor remains haunted by that conversation to this day.
Full Of Love
Sarah’s friends and family, who spoke to reporters following her murder, expressed their complete shock at the incident. Her cousin Magdalena Schmeling spoke about Sarah.”Her heart was so full of love and compassion; she would help anyone in need even if it put her in uncomfortable situations,” she said. Nico also felt compelled to speak out.
“She was an incredible person,” said her Dutch boyfriend, Nico Karsmeijer. “She meant everything to me and I loved her more than anything.” Her cousin spoke about how deeply her brother’s suicide affected her. “Instead of letting the pain consume her, she decided to better understand and help people with mental illness,” says Schmeling. “My aunt has now lost both of her children, and my heart is crushed knowing there is nothing I can do to bring her children back.”
Another close friend of Sarah, Bernard Allison, a well-known blues player and Sarah’s musical mentor, also spoke about her. “She told her mom she wanted to go somewhere where she could study psychology and work with people with mental health issues so they wouldn’t harm themselves or anyone else,” explained Allison. “That’s just the kind of girl she was. She left to get away, to have a clear mind, to focus on herself, and to get an education,” he said.
At such a young age, Sarah had already achieved a lot in her life. She was a well-respected and accomplished blues drummer and often played in weekly jam sessions at venues around Redding, California, where she graduated high school, and Minneapolis. Sarah stood out, not just for her remarkable drumming skills, but also because she was one of the few female drummers on the scene.
As Allison told reporters, “To see this young girl up there who wants to learn the blues, that is just not common,” said Allison. “The first time we played together, I was just so happy to see a young female up there. I got goosebumps.” Allison took the news of Sarah’s sudden death as hard as anyone else.
Holding Her Own
Another friend paid tribute to Sarah, speaking to the press, 21-year-old Trevis Forslund said, “It was absolutely incredible what she was capable of. Guys would get up there and give her grief, but she would hold her own.” Some people even remember her as a sort of mini-celebrity, at least in certain circles.
According to cousin Schmeling, “When I was visiting Sarah in Minnesota, and I walked into a building with her, it was as if I was walking in with a celebrity. Everyone wanted to talk to her,” she said. “As soon as she walked on stage, everyone could see how comfortable she was up there and how passionate she was about music.” It was Sarah’s dream to save up enough cash to buy herself a drum kit, as her mentor Allison explained.
Allison told reporters that he received regular text messages from Sarah. “She updated us on her life and said she was saving up to buy a drum kit,” says Allison. “I just spoke with her last week. She was so excited to come home for Christmas. She said, ‘I actually saved enough money. I got my first drum kit,'” he recalled.
While no motive for the brutal murder of Sarah Papenheim has not been established, the Erasmus University released an official statement. “The university is shocked by this terrible incident and is taking care of upset students and employees and will act towards relatives according to our protocols,” it read. “We encourage our students and staff not to let each other alone in this difficult time and to get in touch with student-advisors and psychologists if they want to.”
While a U.S. State Department spokesperson said the department extends its “deepest condolences to her family and friends,” the spokesperson added, “We are providing all appropriate consular services.” However, the family is still trying to raise the $40,000 needed to bring Sarah home for a proper burial, as her mother concluded. “I know that everyone says that their daughter or son is the sunshine in everybody’s life, but my daughter lights up the world,” she said.