World News

Friends pay tribute to Kim Wall: 'She is more than what happened to her'

Posted August 24, 2017 5:19 a.m. EDT
Updated August 24, 2017 6:06 a.m. EDT

The gruesome death of a Swedish journalist who vanished after a trip on a privately built submarine in Denmark has resonated around the world.

But friends of Kim Wall, paying tribute after her dismembered torso was identified this week, would prefer that she be remembered for her work, rather than for how she died.

Gathering at the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism in New York for a candlelight vigil Wednesday, former classmates sang "Stand by Me" and recalled Wall's distinctive reporting, charm and humor.

For Matthew Claiborne, one of Wall's former classmates, coming together on Wednesday was as a reminder that "she is more than what happened to her."

A tragic return home

From Haiti to North Korea, Wall gave a "voice to the weak, vulnerable and marginalized," her mother, Ingrid Wall, said in a tribute posted on Facebook.

A graduate of Columbia University and the London School of Economics, Wall reported on the tourism industry in post-earthquake Haiti and more recently, the underground online culture in Cuba.

She had been living in New York and was just starting a new phase in her life after moving to China to report from there.

"She was a talented freelance journalist, brimming with integrity, humanity and a deep interest in China and the wider region," the Foreign Correspondents' Club of China said in a statement.

But two weeks ago, she returned to her native Sweden to interview Peter Madsen, a rocket enthusiast and the inventor of a 17-meter, privately built submarine.

She never returned home.

Wall was last seen on that day in an image that allegedly showed her standing with Madsen in the tower of the submarine in a Copenhagen harbor.

Her family wrote a letter to Danish TV asking for the public's help as days passed without news of what may have happened to their only daughter.

"That something could happen to her in Copenhagen, just a few kilometers from the childhood home, we could not imagine at all. Now it looks as though the worst thing happened," they wrote.

Friends and former classmates spread word about Wall's disappearance across the globe, hoping they could track her down.

"People were calling police departments, trying to hold governments accountable from the get go," Claiborne said.

Changing story

The submarine was found about 15 hours after it had departed Copenhagen. Madsen, 46, was rescued from the sinking vessel by emergency crews but there was no trace of the missing journalist.

First, he told police he dropped Wall off on land and then, he said she died in an accident and he buried her at sea in an "unspecified place" in nearby K-ge Bay, Danish officials said.

The inventor has been charged with manslaughter and was ordered to be held in custody for 24 days.

A passing cyclist found a headless female torso Monday afternoon washed up on an island near the Danish capital.

It appeared that the head, legs and arms were deliberately cut off, Danish police chief investigator Jens M-ller Jensen said.

The body had apparently been punctured to let the air out before sinking it, and it was weighted down in a presumed attempt to prevent it floating, he added.

By Wednesday, police matched DNA taken from Wall's toothbrush and hairbrush to the torso. They also confirmed they had found Wall's blood in the submarine, M-ller Jensen told reporters.

"Naturally, the DNA match is a relatively large breakthrough in the investigation which will now continue until we have built all possible information in the case," said M-ller Jensen.

As many as 10 divers were spotted Wednesday as part of an extensive search for "remaining body parts and clothing" in the waters off the island where the torso was found and police have asked for the public's help.

"The scale of the disaster is not yet fully transparent, and there are still a number of questions to be answered," Ingrid Wall wrote.

Answers that only Madsen can provide.