hey reflected, reasoned and prayed until 3 a.m. Tuesday.

But the Rev. Clinton Austin of Fairfax County, Va., and the Rev. Whitt Miller, a local Baptist minister, could not understand how a loving relationship could suddenly end in the strangling of Austin's daughter, Grace, an Oberlin College sophomore, and the attempted suicide of her boyfriend.

The killing has also baffled residents of this small college town 25 miles west of Cleveland as well as its police, who have charged 20-year-old Sean Culmer with aggravated murder, the equivalent of first degree murder.

Culmer, a psychology major from New York City in his junior year at Oberlin, was reported in satisfactory condition at a local hospital yesterday, recovering from neck and head injuries that police said he suffered during a suicide attempt shortly after Austin's body was found.

Culmer is under police guard and will be held under $25,000 bond once released from the hospital and arraigned.

Austin flew to Ohio to identify his daughter and make arrangements for the return of her body to Fort Hunt in Fairfax County.

"His attitude was one of compassion for Sean and the anguish his family must be going through," said Miller, who with his wife, had been like family to Grace Austin. "We meditated on what happened and we are mystified. And we prayed together," Miller said.

Miller, as well as police and other Oberlin residents, said they believe there were growing tensions beneath the veneer of what seemed like a "model relationship" between Austin and Culmer.

Austin apparently wanted to end their year-long relationship, according to Miller and police sources, but their differences were unseen. "They were never out of control of their emotions. They were physically, medically and psychologically well-adjusted people," said Oberlin Police Chief Robert Jones. "They were both religious and did not use alcohol or drugs."

Austin was found at 10 a.m. Sunday, lying face down on the bed in her dormitory room, wearing a nightgown, her neck bearing severe wounds, said Kay Diederick, the first security official to arrive at the scene.

Moments later, police received another report that Culmer was trying to commit suicide.

Booker Peek, adviser to the Oberlin College Black Science Student Organization, of which Culmer is president, described him as "very rational, very thoughtful, very gentle . . . he has a calmness that rivaled Jimmy Carter's soft style." Peek added, "I never saw him lose his temper or even raise his voice."

Peek said Culmer was deeply involved in helping blacks enter Oberlin's scientific program and was very diplomatic in working with college officials to waive entrance standards when possible.

"I would have never believed that he is the one who committed that act," said Miller. "I'm having a hard time trying to deal with that."