Tragedy Strikes

TaLeiza Calloway

Sometimes students are left unaware that someone has died in their residence hall room, often because the incident is no longer relevant to subsequent residents, said Betsy Joseph, director of Residence Services.

Credit: Ben Breier

Tragedy is unexpected. On college campuses, it is not what students are thinking about when they move into their rooms. However, it does and has occurred at Kent State.

“It seems that in the last two years we’ve had more deaths than previous years,” said Dan FitzPatrick, Kent State assistant police chief.

In the last three years, there have been four deaths in the residence halls consisting of two suicides, one accidental death and one natural cause case. Locations include Engleman Hall, Korb Hall, the First Year Experience complex and Centennial Court B.

There is no way to prepare for death in the dorms.

“I don’t think there’s any specific protocol when tragedy happens, but we make available to students on the floor and those close to the student counseling services on and off campus,” said Amy Quillin, associate director of Residence Services.

When 20-year-old Brian Peteritis was found dead in his third floor room in Centennial Court B, Psychological Services was the first to respond. They came to the floor meeting and were very willing to assist in the situation, Quillin explained.

The Counseling and Human Development Center and the counseling clinic also make themselves available to students affected by the tragedy.

Students who do not live in the dorm where the death occurred also are affected in some way as they are a part of the campus community as a whole.

“I was really surprised and kind of scared,” freshman nursing major Amanda Papcun said when she heard about the suicide in Centennial Court B.

“If something could happen like this in a dorm, it makes you think about what can happen in your own dorm. It’s just something you don’t think will happen on a college campus,” she said.

In December 2002, First Year Experience resident Joshua Burkholder was found dead in his room. A year later in December 2003, student Julie Hogan was found dead in her fourth floor room in Korb Hall. The Department of Public Safety records show that her death was accidental.

JaCari Parks, curriculum and instruction graduate student, recalls that nobody saw Hogan for two weeks and noticed a distinct odor throughout the building.

“I don’t understand how nobody noticed she was gone for two weeks,” Parks said. “Students complained about the odor, but nothing was done about it because they didn’t know where it was coming from. They eventually found her, though.”

Death also struck Engleman Hall in March 2005 when Melanie Scheinberg hanged herself in her room.

Death, though a part of life, is a sad situation, particularly from an investigative standpoint.

“When you have an unattended death, especially with young people, you’re trying to figure out what happened,” said Lt. Carl Sweigert of the University Police.

According to Betsy Joseph, director of Residence Services, every situation is responded to differently. In some instances where there is a roommate, that student can be released from their contract if they want to move after the tragedy, or they can choose to stay.

“We work with the roommate and do whatever they are comfortable with,” Joseph said.

As for students who move into the rooms after a death happens, they are not told directly about the previous death. Residence Services makes an assessment as to whether or not to tell the student a death occurred, Joseph said.

“It’s a situation where you have to ask the question of, ‘When will it stop?'” Joseph said.

At what point is the information no longer relevant, Joseph wondered. If two years have passed, do you tell the student moving in that someone died in the room? Would students want to know this information? According to Joseph, there has not been a situation where a student inquired about a death happening in the room they may live in.

“We have to be aware that it would be difficult for students. If it was a concern for a student we would accommodate them,” she said.

Contact features correspondent TaLeiza Calloway at [email protected].