Irina "Ira" Yarmolenko had a sunny spirit, a quick smile and friends everywhere she went.
She wasn't supposed to die at age 20, friends and family said.
The UNC Charlotte sophomore was found Monday May 12, next to her car on the banks of the Catawba River in Mount Holly. On Wednesday evening, police still did not know how Yarmolenko died and how she ended up so far from campus.
Yarmolenko was born in the Ukraine but grew up in Chapel Hill. Her brother, Pavel Yarmolenko, 25, said their family moved to North Carolina in the 1990s as refugees. Their parents found science jobs in Greensboro and later moved to Chapel Hill.
Pavel, a graduate student in biomedical engineering at Duke University, described his sister as a dedicated student who loved to travel and learn about other cultures. She played piano and tennis.
"She was incredible," he said. "There's nothing bad about her."
She graduated from Chapel Hill High in 2006 and began studying at UNCC.
There, she was a member of the Russian Club and more recently, a photographer and occasional writer for the student newspaper. She also worked as a computer assistant.
Her brother said she'd always talked about doing something to help people make their lives better or easier.
"Everything that she's ever done was to help people," he said.
She'd planned to transfer to UNC Chapel Hill to major in public health after finishing this semester in Charlotte, he said.
Mount Holly Police Chief David Belk said he's hoping the public can help police figure out more about where she had been Monday between about 10 a.m., when someone reported seeing her at a coffee shop in the university area, to 1:15 p.m. when she was found by a watercraft rider.
Belk said she appeared to have driven off the road behind the Waters Edge development and the Stowe Family YMCA.
"It's strange that anyone would go to that area," he said, noting that there had not been reports of crime there.
Pavel said he hopes this tragedy will prompt people to think about all students who died too young.
"Don't forget to tell your loved ones that you love them," Pavel said, breaking into tears. "I didn't get a chance to, and I can tell you I wish I had."