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Image: Lauren Failla
Lauren Failla, 25, of New Jersey, was killed by a crocodile while vacationing in India. It was a second tragic loss for her family; her sister was previously killed while rock-climbing.
TODAY contributor
updated 5/10/2010 8:48:46 AM ET 2010-05-10T12:48:46

Family and friends held a concert to celebrate the life of a young New Jersey woman who was killed by a saltwater crocodile while on the vacation of a lifetime in India’s idyllic Andaman Islands.

Lauren Failla was killed almost exactly four years after her 24-year-old older sister died in a rock-climbing accident in Washington state.

Some 200 people filled the sanctuary of St. Peter’s Episcopal Church in Morristown, N.J., for the weekend concert. Although they were still in mourning over the loss of 25-year-old Lauren Failla, the crowd ended up dancing in the aisles, as they said the ebullient and creative Lauren would have done.

Among those who attended the memorial was the Bishop John Shelby Spong, who spoke to NBC News about the unspeakable grief Lauren’s parents have had to endure with the loss of both their daughters.

“To have the same thing happen almost four years to the date to the little sister is almost inconceivable to me,” Spong said.

On April 28, Lauren Failla, 25, was enjoying a vacation with her boyfriend after earning her master’s degree in art at Sotheby’s Art Institute in London. She disappeared during a snorkeling outing. Two days later, her remains, mauled by a giant saltwater crocodile, were recovered.

The attack was reportedly captured on an underwater videocam that Failla’s boyfriend was using to record the dive. The camera was recovered along with Failla’s remains. According to a local newspaper account, personnel involved in recovering the remains had to fight off the crocodile in order to obtain Failla’s body.

‘Raging at the universe’
Lauren Failla’s parents, Frank and Kay Failla, joined other family and Lauren’s many friends at the memorial concert at St. Peter's, where she sang in the choir and volunteered much of her free time to charitable work while growing up.

The concert, featuring the local Blaire Reinhard Band, had been planned before Lauren’s death to raise money to send student volunteers to New Orleans to help build housing for victims of Hurricane Katrina. Church leaders initially thought about canceling the concert, but decided to make it a celebration of her life instead. Lauren had been a big fan of the band.

“She was a really good friend of ours,” Reinhard said at the concert, according to The Star-Ledger newspaper. “It’s really nice to have this happenstance excuse to all get together and think about what a really great person she was.”

Lauren was remembered as a creative and joyous person who loved to dance. She had been planning to become an art therapist after returning from her vacation with her boyfriend in India.

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“She was having a blast, and the trip really did seem as amazing as a trip to India can be," her friend, Michael Haslett, told NBC News for a report that aired Monday on TODAY.

"I'm angry, raging at the universe, that such a thing could not only happen, but that it could happen twice in one family," Anne Yardley, who was choir director when Lauren first joined the children’s choir, told The Star-Ledger.

"She was a wonderful, wonderful person. We loved her, and are terribly upset," the Rev. Janet Broderick, rector of St. Peter's, told the newspaper.

Lauren’s family and friends have expressed outrage that there were no warning signs or crocodile advisories at the resort at which she stayed. There is a saltwater crocodile refuge at another island in the Andaman chain in the Bay of Bengal, and the animals sometime cross to Havelock Island, where Lauren was attacked and killed.

Deadly behemoths
According to published reports, there have been 24 crocodile attacks in the islands in the past 25 years, four of which were fatal. Saltwater crocodiles are behemoths that can grow to 20 feet in length and weigh more than a ton.

Lauren’s cousin, Gloria McLean Hiratsuka, wrote a letter to the local newspaper, Andaman Sheekha, in the islands, saying the death should not have happened.

“Such an unnecessary death: if there had been proper warnings and statements that there are in fact man-eating crocodiles nearby, I am sure Lauren would not have risked swimming,” McLean Hiratsuka wrote. “She thought she was safe. Her father made a point of saying she was not a big risk-taker, always a little reserved, all the more since her sister's untimely death four years ago.”

Image: Lauren and Emily Failla
Sisters Lauren and Emily Failla together. Lauren was killed in a crocodile attack in India in late April. Her older sister Emily died in a rock-climbing accident in 2006.

Lauren’s sister, Emily, was also in her mid-20s when she died in a rock-climbing accident in Washington state, where she lived.

A local newspaper editorial also criticized the lack of warning signs. “The Administration should not play with the lives of the tourists and local people,” the newspaper declared. “It is the need of the hour to decide whether these Islands will be promoted as a tourist destination or a crocodile Sanctuary.”

Bernice Cook, Failla’s aunt, also wrote the Andaman newspaper, saying, “How can this be a safe tourist destination? Where are the signs alerting people to the potential dangers? A crocodile sanctuary and tourist destination cannot co-exist. This behavior is inexcusable and irresponsible on the part of the government.”

Magnetic personality
The Failla family has been very active in St. Peter’s Church. Both Lauren and her mother sang in the choir and her father, Frank, was the church treasurer.

“She was beloved,” Susan Rubli, who graduated from Morristown High School with Lauren, told The Star-Ledger. “Lauren was just one of those people everyone knew — a glowing, bright person, always the center of attention. She happens to be beautiful, but has a very magnetic personality and tried to relate to everyone.”

Lauren graduated from Vanderbilt University and was an accomplished artist.

A funeral service is scheduled for May 15.

The Associated Press contributed reporting to this story.

© 2013 NBCNews.com  Reprints

Video: Two sisters die bizarre, grisly deaths

  1. Transcript of: Two sisters die bizarre, grisly deaths

    MEREDITH VIEIRA, co-host: We are back at 7:43 with the strange and sudden death of two sisters from New Jersey . TODAY national correspondent Natalie Morales has their story. Good morning, Nat .

    NATALIE MORALES reporting: Good morning, Meredith . And for one New Jersey family , tragedy has now struck twice. Lauren Failla was killed by a crocodile late last month while on a dream vacation and just four years ago, her older sister, Emily , suffered a fatal fall rock climbing , as their family once again is searching for solace. It was a bittersweet celebration of life for a family that's had its share of heartache. This time, mourning the sudden and horrific death of Lauren Failla .

    Unidentified Woman #1: If this had happened to another friend, she's the first one I'd call.

    MORALES: For the 25-year-old New Jersey native, it was supposed to be a dream vacation in India , the trip of a lifetime for Lauren , who'd just finished a master's degree at Sotheby's Institute of Art in London .

    Unidentified Woman #2: Lauren was coming into her own as a woman.

    MORALES: Lauren , who hoped to become an art therapist , headed abroad with her boyfriend last month.

    Unidentified Man: She was having a blast and the trip really did seem to be as amazing as a trip to India can be.

    MORALES: But her journey came to an abrupt end while snorkeling in the idyllic Andaman Islands , a popular tourist destination .

    Reverend JANET BRODERICK (St. Peter's Episcopal Church): She was looking at the world and she thought she was perfectly safe.

    MORALES: Lauren was out for the second day in the water when, in a tragic twist, she was attacked and killed by a saltwater crocodile , a deadly reptile that can grow up to 20 feet.

    Rev. BRODERICK: This was very fast and very sudden and without any warning. And those -- and that's scary.

    MORALES: It's the second freak accident , a bizarre irony for the Faillas . Just four years ago, Lauren 's older sister, Emily , a fourth grade teacher , fell more than 400 feet to her death while rock climbing in Washington state . She was just 24.

    Bishop SHELBY SPONG: To have the same thing happen almost four years to the date to the -- to the little sister, it's almost inconceivable to me.

    MORALES: Emily was full of energy and love, according to friends, and her untimely death had a big impact on younger sister , Lauren .

    Woman #1: When Emily passed, she really, you know, took it to a new level. It's tough for anyone and she handled it with grace and beauty.

    MORALES: Now a family and community grieve again, trying to come to terms with the painful loss of two beloved sisters.

    Woman #2: Lauren and Emily all were members of the St. Peter 's Girls Choir here. I just know when we get together to sing that their voices are among us still.

    MORALES: Lauren Failla was apparently unaware of any potential danger where she was snorkeling and now her friends and family say they're asking authorities in India to warn tourists about crocodile attacks before they go in the water. Meredith , just such a sad story.

    VIEIRA: Terribly sad.

    MORALES: So heartbroken for the family .

    VIEIRA: And our thoughts and prayers are with them. Natalie, thank you very much .


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