3rd Death in Two Weeks Hits C.U. Campus

April 16, 2003
By Marc Zawel
Sun Managing Editor

Kristen Osborne ’04, a student in the School of Hotel Administration, died Monday night after sustaining serious head injuries following a fall at her Collegetown residence.

Osborne’s death is the third student death at Cornell in the last two weeks.

Word of Osborne’s sudden death circulated quickly yesterday morning and by mid-day, shocked and visibly shaken Hotel students had gathered outside of Statler Hall. Many sobbed, hugging and speaking quietly with classmates.

“It was the eeriest day I’ve ever seen in the Hotel School. I’d say the one word is just shock. It was unbelievable. The lounge was just another world when everyone found out,” said Kim Glassman ’05.

The incident occurred Monday night at approximately 7:40 p.m. at Osborne’s residence at 403 Elmwood Ave., according to Linda Grace-Kobas, director of the Cornell News Service.

“Apparently, [Osborne] fell three stories in an open stairwell of her building,” Grace-Kobas said.

The IPD, the Ithaca Fire Department (IFD) and members of the Cornell University Police Department (CUPD) all responded to the scene.

Osborne was immediately airlifted to Robert Packer Hospital in Sayre, Pa. by a Guthrie medical helicopter that had landed on Alumni Fields.

Doctors began treating Osborne upon arrival. She was pronounced dead at approximately 10:40 p.m., according to Grace-Kobas.

“These deaths on campus — also in the context of what’s going on internationally — are bound to be distressing,” said Provost Biddy (Carolyn A.) Martin. “We [members of the administration] will do what we can in every single situation and additionally let students know what resources are available to them.”

“Words cannot express how devastated we are about this tragedy,” said David W. Butler, dean of the School of Hotel Administration, in an e-mail to all Hotel students, faculty and staff. “Please join me in offering our support and sympathy to Kristen’s parents and her young brothers, David and Jeffrey, during this painful time.”

“Ithaca Police department officials have declared the fall as accidental,” Grace-Kobas said.

The cause of Osborne’s fall, however, and whether or not Osborne had been under the influence of drugs or alcohol, is still under investigation by the IPD, according to Grace-Kobas.

When reached for comment last night, the IPD stated that no report detailing the incident was available.

“We ask that you refrain from talking about the accident itself, as it is still under police investigation,” Butler wrote in a second e-mail to all Hotel students, faculty and staff. “It is of course critical to avoid repeating unverified information.”

Osborne’s parents, Newton and Janet Osborne, are doing “as well as can be expected under the circumstances,” according to Ken Clarke, director of Cornell United Religious Works (CURW). “This was a huge shock to them.”

Osborne, from Bethesda, Md., had attended Walt Whitman High School.

“Kristen was an inspiration,” said Susan Miller, a junior at the University of Illinois, who went to Walt Whitman with Osborne. “We loved her so much.”

Osborne had been actively involved in many aspects of student life at Cornell. She was the marketing director for the seventy-eighth Hotel Ezra Cornell (HEC), a teaching assistant in the information technologies department and the publicity director for the Cornell University Jazz Ensembles (CUJE).

“She was one of those special spectacular people who was incredibly talented at all she did,” said Jeremy Adler ’03. “She brought joy to all those around her and will always be remembered with a smile emblazoned across her face.”

A memorial service for Osborne will be held tonight at 7 p.m. in Sage Chapel.

Throughout the day, many students confused the events leading up to the death of Osborne with another critical incident occurring at 8:30 p.m. on Monday night at the Telluride House.

According to Grace-Kobas, an 18 year-old male, the brother of a Cornell staff member living at 217 West Ave., “climbed onto the roof of the building (25-30 feet off the ground) and probably jumped.”

The male then fell to the ground, apparently unhurt, and “jumped a second time,” according to Grace-Kobas.

Members of the CUPD, IPD and IFD all responded to the scene. The male’s critical status required him to also be airlifted from Alumni Fields by Mercy Flight Medical Helicopter to Upstate Medical Center in Syracuse.

How the male reached the roof of the building, whether through a window or off a balcony, is still unclear, and the entire incident is still under investigation, according to Grace-Kobas.

As of 3 p.m. yesterday, the male was listed in stable condition, Grace-Kobas said.

Osborne’s death and the fall of the 18 year-old male were unrelated incidents, according to Grace-Kobas.

Although there have been three student deaths in the last two weeks at Cornell, in the last five years, there have been an average of four deaths per year, according to Sharon Dittman, associate director for community relations at Gannett: Cornell University Health Services.

Still, “people don’t have a chance to get their feet back under them” when deaths follow each other so closely, Dittman said. “Young people aren’t supposed to die.”

Last year, there were five student deaths, three of which were suicides and two accidental, according to Dittman.

In 2000-2001, there were three student deaths, two of which were suicides and one due to medical complications, Dittman said. In the years prior, there were two suicides in both 1998-1998 and 1999-2000.

“In terms of statistics, the national rate is one suicide per every 10,000 students,” Dittman said.

This year, there have now been four student deaths, according to Dittman.

Karl W. Brown ’04, who had currently been on leave, fell to his death from the Stewart Avenue bridge into the Cascadilla Gorge late last Thursday afternoon.

The cause of the April 1 death of Vinod Kundnani grad is still under investigation, according to Grace-Kobas. Although an autopsy has been performed, the medical examiner currently awaits the results of toxicology tests.

According to an April 14 story in The Sun, investigators may be treating the death of Kundnani as a suicide.

Ritseh S. Shetty grad, who disappeared on Sept. 26 of last year, was found in the Six Mile Creek gorge area in late February. An autopsy later performed in Binghamton ruled that Shetty’s death was a suicide caused by hanging.

“We [members of] the administration need to take a pro-active role and reach out to students,” Martin said.

Both Martin and Dittman encouraged students having a difficult time coping with the recent string of student deaths to seek support services such as Counseling and Psychological Services (CAPS) at Gannett: Cornell University Health Services, Empathy, Assistance and Referral Service (EARS) and chaplains of CURW.

“Students need to be able to rely on their college’s advising office, faculty, staff and peers as well as the resources at CAPS, University Counseling and Advising Network (UCAN) and CURW,” Martin said.

“The most important work is person by person, friend by friend,” Dittman said. “Our willingness to talk and listen is so important.”

According to a Sun story in Nov. 1977, there were three suicides at Cornell in the fall. At that time, however, students were told not to be alarmed by the spokesperson from Suicide Prevention. “The suicide rate at Cornell is about the same as at any other major university of approximately the same size and status,” he said. “This is contrary to prevalent myths.”

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