"Murder is so much harder to accept than it being natural," said Wendy Talis, 31, whose husband, Scott, 34, is Aidenbaum's second cousin. "We had hoped it wouldn't come down to this. The whole family is heartbroken."
Investigators were told by Aidenbaum's roommates that he left their apartment on the 1600 block of North Broad Street Friday evening to get cash
from the automated teller machine in Progress Plaza, a short distance from campus.
Police who were called to the area about 7:35 p.m. found Aidenbaum lying unconscious on the sidewalk. He had no bruises or marks on his body, but police did notice a minor head wound. His wallet, his Sony Walkman, and all of his identification were gone, police said.
Aidenbaum was rushed to Hahnemann University Hospital and immediately put on life support. He died about 1:30 p.m. Saturday.
Although doctors assured the family that no foul play was involved, indications of a robbery prompted police to look further.
"Right now, we have one witness who said she saw five young black men, ages 16 to 18, walk up from behind the victim," Homicide Sgt. Thomas Burke said. "One hits him, he goes down, and two of the boys go through his pockets. Then the group flees."
Burke said it was unclear what Aidenbaum was struck with and when he went down.
"His body is found near his apartment, which is across the street from the MAC machine," Burke said. "We believe he was hit after making a withdrawal. But we're not positive. We'll be gathering records from the MAC machine to make that determination."
On Friday night, doctors told family members, including Scott Talis, that Aidenbaum had suffered a massive hemorrhage in the lower part of the brain.
"I never knew him to have any health problems," Scott Talis said in a phone interview last night. "But at that point, no one knew what to make of what the doctors were saying. I guess any other explanation kind of went over our heads."
Talis said Aidenbaum was born and raised in Bustleton. He graduated from Washington High School and had a passion for playing basketball. He had worked a couple of years for Talis and Talis' father in their Northeast pet shop before enrolling in Temple's journalism program.
"We have three small children, and we've been trying not to react too badly in front of them," said Wendy Talis of her 3-year-old daughter and 14- month-old twin boys. "But when we found out, we both broke down.
"Brian used to come over and play with the kids all the time," she said. ''He loved all of his little cousins. He was the sweetest kid who walked the Earth. He never had a bad thought in his head."
On March 16 last year, Aidenbaum and another friend came to the rescue of a fellow Temple student who was screaming for help as a man tried to sexually assault her. They chased the man away and later testified on the student's behalf, said Assistant District Attorney Thomas McPherson, who prosecuted the case.
McPherson said last night that Aidenbaum and his friend received a letter of commendation from District Attorney Lynne Abraham for their part in the investigation and trial. The man was found guilty of attempted rape and sentenced to a minimum of three years at a state institution for sex offenders on April 21, 1994.
"He was extremely cooperative and generous with his time," McPherson said of Aidenbaum. "He walked me through the crime, filled me in on the details and showed up in court on numerous occasions as a witness. And here it is, almost exactly a year later, he becomes the victim. It's so tragic."
Services for Aidenbaum will be held today, beginning at 2 p.m., at Goldsteins' Rosenberg's Raphael-Sacks in Southampton, Bucks County.