U.S. Student Fatally Stabbed By Roommate In The Netherlands, Police Say

Weeks before her murder, Sarah, a talented drummer who was studying psychology, appeared to be living her dream of studying abroad.

January 07, 2019
Sarah Papenheim [Provided: Sarah Papenheim Memorial Fund / GoFundMe]

Sarah Papenheim [Provided: Sarah Papenheim Memorial Fund / GoFundMe]

Sarah Papenheim [Provided: Sarah Papenheim Memorial Fund / GoFundMe]

By: Catherine Townsend

ROTTERDAM, NETHERLANDS – On December 12, 2018, the body of a 21-year-old American student was found in a bathtub full of blood at her student apartment in Rotterdam, Netherlands.

When police entered the apartment on Kralingse Kerlaan, they found Sarah Papenheim, who was from Andover, Minnesota, with stab wounds. Emergency personnel attempted to resuscitate her, but she was later pronounced dead.

Police have arrested Sarah's roommate, Joel Schelling, a 23-year-old Dutch national, in connection with her murder. Officers apprehended Schelling after tracking him down at the Eindhoven train station around 65 miles from Rotterdam.

A witness told the Daily Mail that he seemed “extremely calm, like he had just finished a yoga session,” when police nabbed him. He was reportedly carrying his cello.

Papenheim moved to the Netherlands last year to study at Erasmus University in Rotterdam in the department of Social and Behavioural Sciences.

Weeks before her murder, Sarah, a talented drummer who was studying psychology, appeared to be living her dream of studying abroad.

So what led Schelling to brutally murder his roommate? Papenheim’s friends and family are trying to make sense of the tragedy – and are seeking answers.

Sarah and Schelling each had their own room in their apartment, but shared a kitchen and bathroom, according to police. Sarah’s mother, Donee Odegard, told Fox 9 that her daughter was killed in a bathtub. She said: “They found her in a bath of blood, stabbed to death and beat up and stabbed for no reason, but trying to be his friend.”

Odegard told KMSP that she was aware that Sarah’s roommate had “highs and lows” and said, “I told her she needed to get out of there, because something ain't right."

Sarah’s friend Adam Pryor, whom she'd met in the Minneapolis music scene, told ABC News that Sarah had texted about her roommate's desire to kill just a week before she died.

He told the news channel that according to Sarah’s text, Schelling said that he was “gonna kill 3 people… So I'm gonna have to go to the police.” But Pryor added that Sarah had never given him any indication that she was in any immediate danger, and called her “the best friend anyone could ask for.”

“She was very responsible, that she would go to the police and take care of everything. I didn't ever think something like this was going to happen,” he said.

Sarah was a talented musician who was a regular on the Minneapolis music scene and had been a regular at open jam sessions since she was just 15, according to WCCO.

She caught the attention of Jellybean Johnson, who became her mentor and nicknamed her “Thumper” – because, he said, she hit the drums as hard as the guys did.

Sarah had planned to visit her family over the Christmas break and was scheduled to play a gig at the Schooner Tavern in Minneapolis. Instead, Sarah's family made arrangements to bring their daughter's body home.

After a GoFundMe page they created to help raise the estimated $40,000 in funeral costs gained massive public support, Sarah's funeral was held on December 29.

"Sarah will forever be known for her smile that seemed to light up the world, and the world is a darker place without her," her obituary reads.

Sarah's social-media posts paint a picture of a vibrant, happy young woman who was juggling a busy schedule of working and going to school.

But despite the cheerful impression, Sarah was dealing with some darkness in her life as well. Her brother Josh committed suicide a few years ago, and according to friends and family she struggled with the loss.

In November, Sarah wrote a tribute to her brother on Instagram. It reads: “November 13, 2018. Today would have been your 23rd birthday. The time without you here has been unbearably emotional. It’s been over two and a half years, but it still feels like yesterday. I wish I could understand. But in some ways I hope I never do understand it because I never want anyone to feel as bad as you did.”

Sarah's mom claimed that her daughter chose to study psychology, at least in part, in order to better understand why her brother took his own life.

Police have not yet released any information related to possible motive in the case.

The university issued a statement which reads:

"Sarah studied psychology and lived in the Netherlands since 2016. Our deepest condolences go out to all Sarah's family and friends at this poignant time. The university is shocked by this terrible incident and is taking care of upset students and employees."

Schelling appeared before a judge in December, who ordered that he be detained as the investigation continues.

Read more: The Washington Post, CNN

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