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121014 kaarma trial - IR copy

"We are not criminals," testifies Robby Pazmino, an Ecuadorian exchange student who was with Diren Dede that night he was shot by Markus Kaarma. "It (sneaking into garages) was like a game, but we didn't know the rules."

MISSOULA -- The killing in Missoula of Diren Dede is on the radar of exchange programs in Montana and the foreign students they would court.

But the Montana regional director of International Cultural Exchange Services says a record number of students are in schools through the program this year, and it’s business as usual screening host families for next year.

“We had some students last year from Germany when the whole thing happened, and it definitely affected the program and just kind of scared everybody,” Sierra Fein said Tuesday. “When we were looking for host families for this upcoming school year right after everything took place, I definitely heard from the families that there were concerns about the safety of the students.”

Dede, an exchange student from Germany, was shot to death April 27 in a Grant Creek garage that he’d apparently broken into looking for beer. The trial of his shooter, Markus Kaarma, wrapped up Tuesday and was sent to the jury.

International Cultural Exchange Services is one of several programs that arrange for students from other countries to attend Montana high schools each year.

Fein said Dede, a student at Big Sky High School, was in Missoula through a different program, but all are under the auspices of the U.S. State Department, which imposes strict guidelines for finding host families and ensuring the safety of students.

ICES has exchange students from Sweden, Italy and Mexico in Frenchtown this year, but there are none in Missoula.

Fein said Dede’s death and the circumstances around it raised awareness “of things that we need to discuss in orientations, just using that case as an example to highlight how important it is for students to follow their household rules and all the state rules so that they’re not in compromising situations like that.”

Fein, who is headquartered in Bozeman, said applications for placement in Montana schools in 2015-16 are already being reviewed.

“To my knowledge, there’s really still a very huge demand for students to come here, and we’re already looking for host families for them,” she said. “I feel like with these negative experiences, the best thing we can do as a community is just really embrace the students that come in here and treat them just like regular children, treat them with the same love and support so that while they’re over here hopefully they don’t get into any kind of trouble.”

Asked Tuesday for information on the foreign exchange program at Missoula County Public Schools, spokeswoman Hatton Littman said the district is “still not making any statements with regard to the trial.”

Jay Bostrom, a teacher and Dede’s soccer coach at Big Sky, was identified in pretrial documents filed by Kaarma’s defense team as the International Educational Exchange coordinator at the school. He could not be reached for comment.

Missoula schools have reportedly long teamed with the Council on International Educational Exchange as their student exchange agency. Fein said public schools themselves don’t typically bring in exchange students on their own. The State Department requires them to have sponsoring organizations like ICES to coordinate with.

“We are the ones that actually give the students their visas to come over here, and we take responsibility for caring (for) and supervising them and making sure they’re in good, safe homes,” she said. “Of course, there are incidents like last year that can’t really be prevented, but we can learn from them.”

Fein said everyone in the ICES program in Montana was “really shocked and just blown away by the whole situation” in Missoula.

“I think we all do realize that accidents and these kinds of situations happen,” she said. “But it doesn’t mean that everybody is doing it. It’s not a bad place. Hopefully everybody realizes that.”

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Mineral County, Veterans Issues Reporter

Outlying communities, transportation, history and general assignment reporter at the Missoulian