Vance Nwankwo was remembered by friends, neighbors and former teachers on Sunday night as selfless and kind, someone who wanted to get to know everyone and a had a smile for anyone he met.
More than 50 people who knew Nwankwo gathered in the cold and rain for a candlelit vigil on Sunday night near the pond where the South Barrington man was found dead on Friday. Nwankwo, 25, was described as mildly autistic and had been missing since a cabdriver reportedly brought him home from a Halloween party on Oct. 30.
Friends gathered in the rain on Sunday night telling stories, placing candles and flowers near the pond by Nwankwo's home. Many retold stories or common memories about Nwankwo -- his love of movies, his savant-like memory of details about every person he met, his sense of humor.
"Whenever you were around him he just made you feel like a better person," said Joey Pape, 24 who grew up in Barrington. "He was so loving, so trusting and just really special."
Nwankwo graduated from Barrington High School in 2005, but a group of teachers attended the vigil, comforting former students and discussing how much of an impact Nwankwo had on them and the school, where he would still come back and visit.
"He was the most charismatic human being and he just had the strongest spirit. He would give you the shirt off his back if he had one," said former teacher Colleen Kornik. "He was always so joyful."
Several people said they were surprised that Nwankwo was found in the pond because he was a good fisherman and, they said, knew how to be safe in the water.
"He loved the water, I would never expect him to die in it," said neighbor Crista Deblasio, 28. "So many of my memories are of him fishing, wearing a big green vest."
Other friends were disappointed it took so long for Nwankwo's body to be found by police.
"It's really hard to wrap my mind around what happened, especially to someone like Vance who was so selfless and innocent," said Shari Witas, 27 of Barrington, who went to school with Nwankwo. "We just don't really know what happened and for his family not to know what happened to him for 10 days is unimaginable."
Divers from the Barrington Fire Department recovered Nwankwo's body about 3 p.m. Friday after a five-hour search. They searched two ponds near Nwankwo's house in the Spring Creek subdivision at Penny and Bartlett roads, finding his body in the second one examined with sonar equipment.
Nwankwo attended a party at the Drink nightclub in Schaumburg Oct. 30 dressed as "The Hulk" with his entire body painted green with black circles around his eyes. According to police, a cabdriver dropped off Nwankwo in front of his South Barrington home after picking him up at the nightclub. Nwankwo's boot was found by the mailbox, indicating that he got at least that far after leaving the party, authorities said.
Results of an autopsy performed Saturday on Vance Nwankwo are pending until toxicology reports are complete, a Cook County medical examiner's office spokesman said.