Tuesday, March 16, 2004

Life of promise cut short

Miami U junior killed in Italy on vacation

By Jon Gambrell
Enquirer contributor

OXFORD - John Thomas Petters was always on the move.

Petters, a junior from Wayzata, Minn., who was studying political science and business at Miami University, had recently returned from studying abroad in Australia. He was planning to visit China this summer.

But most important, he was looking forward to being the best man in his father's marriage in June.

"He had packed more in his life than I ever had," said his father, Tom Petters, chairman and CEO of Petters Group Worldwide, which owns Fingerhut Direct Inc., Master Craft Tools and other companies.

"He was very into international business and could warm up a crowd. He was a hell of a salesman."

Petters, 21, was stabbed to death early Saturday in Florence, Italy, where he was vacationing with friends.

According to his father, his son and one of his friends, who he could not identify, entered a closed public garden. While there, Petters and the friend got into an argument with a young woman who lived there.

"(The residents) thought they were possibly going to be burglarized," Tom Petters said. "The language barriers complicated matters."

The young woman's father, a 54-year-old shop owner, came out of his home and grabbed Petters' friend.

A struggle ensued and the shop owner drew a knife, stabbing Petters in the chest and the leg, slicing through an artery. Petters died around 4:30 a.m. (Italian time), while waiting for an ambulance.

The shop owner was arrested by Florence police in connection with the death.

"One would never think he'd go to Florence and get murdered," said his father, who received a call from the American Consulate while vacationing in the Bahamas. "He hardly had an enemy."

In Oxford, staff and students were stunned by the news.

"It's a very sad day here," said school spokeswoman Holly Wissing. "Our hearts go out to his friends and family."

Wayne Staton, an associate finance professor, said Petters had talked to him 11 days ago about some financial ventures he was planning.

"John was quite an entrepreneur," Staton said. "He organized an investment club. He was always on the ball. In the year-and-a-half I knew him, he had matured greatly."

Petters' roommate, junior Cameron Codilis of Glen Ellyn, Ill., said his friend of three years was hard working and "looked up to his father."

"He was very caring and dedicated," Codilis said. "He cared for everyone."

In addition to his father, survivors include his mother, Jamie Wilcox, and a 19-year-old sister.


The Associated Press contributed. E-mail jgambrell@fuse.net

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