RYE, N.H. — Just like his older brother, John Durkin played middle linebacker on his high school football team. Ted went to Bates College and played football; John went to Bates College and played football. Ted studied abroad in Rome, and so, when John got the opportunity to travel for a semester, he knew just where he would go.
“He always wanted to do what his older brother was doing,” said John Durkin’s best friend since childhood, John Hebert.
Durkin, a 21-year-old Bates College junior from Rye Beach, N.H., was found dead by Italian police after he went missing from a Rome bar popular with Americans, according to a family member and Bates College.
Statements by the family and college did not divulge the circumstances of Durkin’s death, but Italian Railway Police posted a statement online saying a 21-year-old US citizen, who had been reported missing by a college official, had been struck and killed by a train. Officers discovered the body in a tunnel between St. Peter’s and Trastevere stations and are investigating the death, the statement said, adding that family members had identified the body. The statement did not name the victim.
Durkin, an economics major and linebacker on the Bates football team, was last seen Wednesday by friends at the bar called Sloppy Sam’s, according to a Facebook event page set up by Durkin’s family.
“It is with much sadness that the Durkin family informs you of the loss of John Nolen Durkin and thanks everyone for their support during the past few days,” a family member wrote on the page Saturday morning.
The family did not respond to several requests for comment.
Durkin’s friend Hebert, 20, and his father, Joel Hebert, said Durkin was the middle child of five children and came from a tight-knit family.
“If you look up ‘American family’ in the dictionary, it would be a picture of them. They’re all just great people,” said John Hebert, who said Durkin’s father, uncle, and older brother are in Italy.
Joel Hebert said Durkin was an upstanding young man who cared deeply for his friends.
When the two boys were in eighth grade, John Hebert came home beside himself — he had lost his starting position on the football team both played on. The next day, when Joel Hebert took his son to practice, Durkin’s mother stopped him, concerned about what had happened.
It turned out that Durkin had come home just as upset as his friend over the demotion.
“That’s the kind of bond that John and John had,” said Joel Hebert. “He’s not a kid you can just replace.”
Durkin was a diehard Yankees fan, while John Hebert was a Red Sox loyalist. But the two bonded over their friendly sports rivalry and, as young boys, their shared first names. They played sports together — football in middle school and baseball in the summers. They went to different high schools, but Durkin never missed any of Hebert’s important football games.
“We played in three state championship games, and he never missed one of them,” said John Hebert. “He was just an outstanding human being. . . . He’s how you would want your son to be.”
John Hebert said Durkin loved Rome, where he was sightseeing and going to bars with his friends.
“He was having a blast over there,” he said.
The last time the two communicated was about a week ago on Facebook, John Hebert said, when they chatted about the Yankees’ offseason moves, college basketball, and how bad the Knicks were.
The news that his best friend was missing was the worst thing he had ever heard, Hebert said. News of Durkin’s death Saturday sent him reeling.
“I always aspired to be as good as him,” he said. “He made other people around him better.”
Durkin was remembered in prayer during an afternoon Mass at St. Theresa Church in Rye, a town of just over 5,000 on the New Hampshire coast.
“It is with deep sadness that we add to the names of the deceased the name of John Durkin,” said the Rev. Maurice D. Lavigne, noting that his family are members of the parish. “On behalf of our parish, we sent to them our deepest sympathy.”
Down the road at the Durkins’ home, a historic three-story residence built in 1779, family members and friends came and went, paying their respects.
“This is a time of deep sadness for our community and for so many people who knew and loved John,” Bates College President Clayton Spencer said in a posting on the college’s news website. “We are profoundly sad and share the tremendous grief of his family.”
The trip to Rome involved 55 students and included five other Bates students. It was organized through Trinity College in Hartford, Conn., according to the college.
A spokeswoman for Trinity said the school’s president, James F. Jones Jr., had extended his sympathies to Durkin’s family and to Bates.
“John’s death appears to have been an isolated incident,” spokeswoman Michele Jacklin wrote in a press release. “Trinity is doing everything possible to help the students in Rome during this time of duress, including making counseling available to any student who desires it.”
In the Bates College posting, Durkin’s football coach said the 21-year-old was a key part of team.
“John’s commitment to excellence in all phases of his life was inspirational to the other members of the squad and a major factor in the team’s success over the past three years,” Mark Harriman said.
Bates College said in a statement that its students were currently away on winter break, but that a memorial gathering would take place Monday at 4:30 p.m.
New Hampshire Governor Maggie Hassan wrote on Twitter, “Deeply saddened to learn of the loss of John Durkin. Thoughts & prayers are with his parents, friends and loved ones in this difficult time.”