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Family, friends remember Chapel Hill High grad

Irina Yarmolenko was found next to her blue Saturn at the edge of the Catawba River in Mount Holly on May 5.

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CHAPEL HILL, N.C. — Friends and family gathered Saturday to celebrate the life of a Chapel Hill High School graduate who died earlier this month.

Irina Yarmolenko, 20, was found next to her blue Saturn at the edge of the Catawba River in Mount Holly on May 5. The UNC-Charlotte student had been suffocated, according to an autopsy.

“I thought she was literally the embodiment of love because she would just make your day a lot better,” said UNC-Asheville student Sam Hunt, who graduated high school in 2006 with Yarmolenko.

Hunt was among about 300 people who attended Saturday’s event at the Chapel Hill High School auditorium.

“She had the most contagious laugh I've ever heard and she definitely went out of her way to make everybody smile, every single day,” said Emily Silva, who also graduated with Yarmolenko. Silva now attends Elon University.

The service included friends sharing happy memories of Yarmolenko. Slideshows of Yarmolenko induced laughter from the crown, as they showed her love for the arts, travel and spending time with family and friends. Some speeches and readings of Yarmolenko’s poetry left many in tears.

Friends said their thoughts and prayers are with Yarmolenko's family.

"Obviously none of us can even conceive what they're going through, but we're definitely thinking of them,” Silva said.

Yarmolenko was born in Ukraine. Her family moved to the United States when she was 8. The family arrived in Greensboro and later moved to Chapel Hill, where her parents and older brother still reside.

Mount Holly police released a video Friday of Yarmolenko at a Goodwill Store in Charlotte. The shopping trip may be one of the last things she did before her death.

The university has offered a $10,000 reward for information leading to the arrest of a suspect in her death.


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