Kenneth Nwannunu, a Woodland Country Day School graduate and University of Pennsylvania senior who was known by many not just as a star athlete but also an astute mind admired by his family and friends, died this past Wednesday while studying abroad in Shanghai, China.
Nwannunu was 21.
Sadly, even his own family still did not know as of Friday exactly how Nwannunu passed away. His mother, Denise Williams, was hoping to fly to Shanghai to escort her son’s body home.
A longtime Alloway Township resident, Nwannunu was a philosophy, politics and economics major studying in China for the semester, according to his school newspaper, The Daily Pennsylvanian.
The school paper reported that because of communication challenges, such as the 12-hour time difference and the language barrier, they have not received information about a cause of death.
Nwannunu comes from a very close-knit family. He is the son of Williams and John Nwannunu, who is a physician in Nigeria and has served in the Nigerian Senate. Williams recently moved to Georgia.
Nwannunu also has a younger sister and brother — Amara and Nelson.
“He had everything going for him,” said Rev. Edward Dorn, pastor of Second Baptist Church in Pedricktown. “He was absolutely excellent, very articulate. He would speak before our church assembly.”
Dorn has been friends with the family for years and said Williams, the former CEO of The Memorial Hospital of Salem County, served on the Calvary Community Development Corporation before moving to Atlanta.
He was shocked to get the news of Nwannunu’s passing.
“I heard at 1 a.m. Wednesday morning,” he said. “I was devastated. Sleep was over for me from 1 o’clock on that morning.”
Dorn went to Princeton University to pick up Amara and bring her to the airport so she could be with her mother in Georgia. Nelson goes to Emory University, so he was already in Atlanta.
“All three of them are top scholars,” Dorn said. “He met several of the senators and politicians in the area. He was very well spoken.”
He added that Nwannunu, a top student at the University of Pennsylvania, aspired to be a lawyer or a doctor like his father.
“This is a devastating loss and we are all quite upset and emotional,” Dorn said, but he added that a big support network of friends will be there to help Williams and her family get through this difficult time.
That network includes Harvey and Barbara Saunders, members of the Calvary Community Development Corporation who have been friends with the family for years.
Barbara Saunders taught Nwannunu in Sunday School and she recalled him Friday as an extremely bright, astute mind.
“He was very well mannered, very respectful, very intelligent,” she said. “He was very focused. He had a lot going for him.
“I personally feel the whole family is the type of people that if they can do anything to help you, they got involved in that way,” she said.
No funeral arrangements have been made at this point, but it is expected that the services will be held here in Salem County.
30 Nigerians who have died in Chinese jails and there are an estimated 700 Nigerians currently in prison in China.
It would be recalled that Nigeria MPs have asked the government to investigate the status of Chinese residents in the country, saying some may be staying there illegally.
The demand follows allegations that Nigerians in China, especially those in jail, are being mistreated. The MPs asked the government to reject a request by the Chinese authorities to cremate the bodies of 30 Nigerians who have died in Chinese jails.
There are an estimated 700 Nigerians currently in prison in China.The BBC’s Chris Ewokor in Abuja says they are mainly charged with immigration, drug or fraud offences.
Trade between Nigeria and China is booming and an estimated 20,000 Chinese people live in Nigeria, he says.A similar number of people from across Africa are legally in China – and many more are thought to be there unofficially.
In July, a group of Africans staged a rare protest in the city of Guangzhou after a Nigerian man was reported to have died running away from police there.
The Nigerian lawmakers want the government to conduct an audit to determine how many illegal Chinese immigrants there are in the country.
The row comes after the Chinese government, through its embassy in Nigeria, sought permission to cremate the 30 corpses of Nigerian prisoners, saying their relatives cannot be traced.
At a press conference, the head of the House of Representatives Committee on the Diaspora, Abike Dabiri-Erewa, said Nigeria could no longer accept a situation where its people were being “maltreated and dehumanised abroad”.
Her colleague MP Samson Osagie told the BBC he believed there should be a “harmonious diplomatic” relationship between Nigeria and China.But he said Nigerians were not the only people to commit immigration offences.“
Let us find out if all the Chinese in Nigeria are legally resident,” he told the BBC’s Network Africa programme.
Our reporters says the government is yet to say what action it intends to take.