Just before taking the stage Monday at Omaha North High School, Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton spoke privately for five minutes with the parents of the slain Seth Rich.
“I figured it would be just a staged greeting,” said his father, Joel Rich. “But my wife and I were both really caught off guard. Secretary Clinton had talked with people who knew Seth — and it wasn’t just that he had worked at the DNC and was a nice guy.”
Seth, 27, had worked as voter expansion data director for the Democratic National Committee, and his father said he had learned three days before his July 10 death that he would switch jobs from the party to the Clinton campaign. He was to work in Brooklyn, N.Y.
Hillary Clinton was “extremely warm and comforting” and seemed to know a lot about Seth, Joel said, which “made us feel good.”
Tuesday afternoon, Joel and Mary Rich flew from Omaha to Washington, D.C., for “a tribute to Seth’s life” today.
“Memorial service,” his father said, isn’t the correct term, though it certainly will include memories — good ones, some dating to his Omaha childhood.
It starts at 5 p.m. at Lou’s City Bar, a generic sports bar but also a “Husker gathering place” on football game days for Nebraska fans in the D.C. area.
More than 125 people have signed up to attend, and Joel said it goes “until people run out of stories to tell about Seth.”
Three and a half weeks ago, Seth Rich was fatally shot after 4 a.m. while walking home in his northwest Washington neighborhood. His father said Seth had been on the phone with his girlfriend just before he was attacked.
D.C. police have announced no arrests or even leads in Rich’s killing.
“The case remains under investigation,” police spokeswoman Aquita Brown told The World-Herald on Tuesday. “There are no updates.”
The Riches plan to meet this morning with detectives and the Washington police chief. Joel said he “absolutely” believes that it was a random crime.
He said the police “have been extremely helpful and caring about the family.”
Though he and his family will always grieve Seth’s early death, Joel said, the outpouring of sympathy from all parts of their son’s life has helped.
The Riches learned last Friday afternoon from the Clinton campaign in Omaha that the presidential candidate wanted to meet them. Monday morning, the couple were told that photos would be taken.
When they got to North High for the photo session, Joel said, “We found out that the secretary had requested that we be the last ones so she could spend more time with us.”
They showed Clinton a photo of Seth and his girlfriend outside the White House. Mary Rich said Clinton remarked on what a room-brightening smile he had.
Joel asked if the candidate would sign a photo for the girlfriend, whom he identified only as Kelsey from the Detroit area. Tuesday morning, he received the autographed photo, which included an expression of sympathy from Clinton.
He said he feels terrible for the 26-year-old woman because “her life has been turned upside down.” She and Seth weren’t engaged, but Joel said it seemed to be heading in that direction.
Seth grew up in Omaha attending Beth El Synagogue and Friedel Jewish Academy. When he was a boy, World-Herald photos pictured him at the academy for an Audubon Society presentation of a bird of prey and three years later during a photo workshop.
He attended Beveridge Middle School and Central High, and was always a leader.
At a 2006 rally of 300 Omaha Public Schools students in support of the school district, Seth stood up and said: “A full education is one that teaches you how to deal in the real world. Thanks to OPS, I now have that full education.”
He continued his education at Creighton University, where he was active in student government and inter-fraternity council. He interned for then-U.S. Sen. Ben Nelson and in recent years enjoyed working in the nation’s capital.
Seth came from a longtime Omaha family. His grandfather Gene Rich founded the Business Printing Service, which eventually was sold.
Joel Rich is an account executive with Graphics Technologies Inc., also a commercial printer. He recently served a two-year term as president of the congregation at Beth El, whose senior rabbi, Steven Abraham, was invited to give an invocation Monday at North High.
The rabbi mentioned Seth Rich and the high regard in which he was held.
Today’s tribute in Washington to Seth’s life will be bittersweet for his family members, but they will appreciate everyone’s stories — no matter how long they last.
Joel said he has heard over and over that Seth always was inclusive, making sure no one was left out.
“He was always trying to lead the group,” his father said, “while letting others take credit.”
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