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SJU student missing in plane crash

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Amid the noisy conversation in the St. John’s University Law School cafeteria Tuesday, subdued grief gripped students who knew Belle Harbor resident Christopher Lawler, missing since his house was destroyed by the crash of American Airlines Flight 587.

Neighbors said Lawler, 24, was sleeping in the basement of his Beach 131st Street home when it was destroyed by the plane crash at about 9:15 a.m. Monday. Lawler’s mother, Kathy, was also home at the time and is missing, neighbors said.

By Tuesday afternoon Lawler’s classmates were holding back tears as they talked about the well-liked second-year law school student.

“It’s just one of those random things,” said one young woman who did not give her name but whose eyes welled up with tears as she spoke. “Of all the houses, of all the people . . . it’s a little sad.”

As she spoke, another young woman at the cafeteria table became visibly upset and excused herself.

Another student who also did not give his name said professors were “looking for him in class and he wasn’t there.”

“He was just a real nice kid and as good-natured as they come,” the student said.

Some said Lawler had a 9 a.m. class Monday morning at the Jamaica campus but had chosen to stay home instead.

Lawler was among some six to eight people on the ground who have been reported as missing since Flight 587 hit the residential neighborhood of Belle Harbor just three minutes after taking off from John F. Kennedy Airport.

The plane, an American Airlines Airbus, had 260 people on board.

In a way, Lawler’s apparent death was a microcosm of the community’s story since Sept. 11.

Neighbors in the tight-knit Rockaway peninsula community estimate the area lost about 100 residents in the World Trade Center attack before Monday’s crash directly devastated Belle Harbor.

Law Professor Elizabeth Defeis, who had Lawler as a student this semester, said he had missed class several times so far this year to attend funerals of friends lost in the Twin Towers.

“He was a very sensitive, lovely person,” Defeis said Tuesday. “I only knew him in time of bereavement.”

Several students said the death of a classmate in this week’s disaster was “scary” and “eerie.”

St. John’s spokesman Jody Fisher said the school, which recently opened a Manhattan campus near the World Trade Center, lost at least 75 alumni in the Sept. 11 attack but no students.

Law Professor Robert Parella said the atmosphere at the school was one of grief Tuesday.

Parella said the university had been on edge in the first few days after the Twin Towers attack because of fears students may have been lost “and then something falls out of the sky and kills one of them — it’s very sad.”

Reach reporter Kathianne Boniello by e-mail at Timesledgr@aol.com or call 229-0300, Ext. 146.

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