ST. LOUIS • Mark Thompson remembers Henry Manu and Samuel Neal debating who was a better basketball player, LeBron James or Stephen Curry.
Thompson spent a lot of time with the duo at service events for Timothy Lutheran Church, 6704 Fyler Avenue, where he is the director of Christian education. He is among the many who lament the loss of the two teens who drowned in the Meramec River on Saturday.
Manu, 18, of the 4100 block of Eichelberger Street, would have been a senior at Lutheran South High School this fall. Neal, 18, of the 7100 block of Alabama Avenue, would have been a junior at Roosevelt High School.
The two teens entered the river near the boat ramp at Castlewood State Park around 7:30 p.m. Saturday and began struggling, St. Louis County police said. Witnesses told police that the two went under and didn’t resurface.
Thompson said both teens were known for their good natures. “Around them, there was lots of joking, lots of smiling,” Thompson said. “Along with the other boys, they were gregarious, fun-loving kids who were really hard workers.”
Henry Manu was a refugee from Liberia, who came to the United States about 10 years ago, said an aunt, Sunita Manu. He lived with her and her mother.
“Henry was a great kid,” said Sunita Manu. “He was full of laughter wherever he was. He was one person who when I was having a bad day when I came home, he would try to bother me, to make me smile. Henry was sweet. Henry loved his grandmother. In fact, he impacted a lot of lives.”
She said that during the school year, he lived in a dorm with international students who came to the United States to attend Lutheran schools. He played varsity football and was a member of the wrestling club at Lutheran South.
Sunita Manu said students from all around the world were messaging her, upset about what had happened.ise
Neal had been visiting from Liberia since last summer, said his sister, Estella Wesseh.
Wesseh, 19, said her brother stayed with her and her father and was planning to return to Liberia next year.
She said he and Henry Manu were best friends who did everything together, and Manu encouraged him and helped him adapt when he first came to St. Louis. He played soccer for Roosevelt High.
“He was a genuine soul,” Wesseh said. “He bothered nobody. He was a very quiet kid, and he wouldn’t talk to you unless you pressed on him.”
Neither teen knew how to swim, said Sunita Manu, and she was seeking answers from police and the adult chaperone who took the boys to Castlewood about what happened. She thought the teens were going somewhere to play basketball when the chaperone picked them up.
Now, she and Wesseh are trying to communicate with family in Liberia and make funeral arrangements.
Jelani Bush, Manu’s assistant varsity football coach, said his aunt came to practice Monday to support the team. The principal and other administrators sat with her, as she was emotional.
A GoFundMe webpage was created to raise money for funeral costs for the families of the teens. Thompson said the church is working on additional fundraisers, including one at Chick-fil-A in south St. Louis County, where Henry Manu worked. Organizers haven’t finalized a date for the fundraiser.