Grief touches students weeks after accident

Flowers, candles, and a paper crane lay on top of a brick wall.
Venus Edlin / The Mossy Log

Hammocking incident leaves community with questions, campus leaders urge respect of family’s wishes

After an accident on the first day of the Fall 2022 semester resulting in a death and two injuries of students, the Lewis & Clark community still has many questions.

On Aug. 29 at approximately 8:15 p.m., emergency services were called to the historic grape arbor on campus. Six first-year students were hammocking using several free-standing brick columns to support three hammocks in a Z-formation when one column fell inward. Portland Fire & Rescue (PF&R) confirmed no one was pinned beneath the column. 

At the scene, a Campus Safety officer performed CPR on a 19-year-old male student who died before emergency responders could arrive. Two 18-year-old women were taken to a nearby hospital after the accident.

Many community members heard about the incident from local news outlets before a bulletin was sent out via email from LC at 12:35 a.m. The following day, Aug. 30, President Robin Holmes-Sullivan sent out a follow-up bulletin.

“I am a parent myself and I, along with the entire Lewis & Clark community, are devastated by this loss,” Holmes-Sullivan said via email. “My heart goes out to his family and friends. We will do everything we can to support our students recovering in the hospital and those on campus who have been impacted by this tragedy.”

In an email sent out the evening of Aug. 30, Associated Student Body (ASB) President Madeleine MacWilliamson echoed many of Holmes-Sullivan’s sentiments.

“I am distraught that this devastating occurrence took place after our first day of classes,” MacWilliamson said. “Please take time to care for yourselves mentally and emotionally. If you have the emotional capacity, reach out to friends, peers, and loved ones.”

Despite two weeks passing since the incident, many details are still unknown to the public, as well as the family. According to the Office of Communications, Holmes-Sullivan will soon be sending out an email with additional details to address common concerns such as the stability of structures on campus. 

One missing detail includes the names of the students involved, which are being withheld at the request of the families. Vice President for Student Life and Dean of Students Evette Castillo Clark urges the community to keep the name private.

“I’m appreciative that our campus community is respecting the family’s wishes to not disclose the name of their student and allow them to grieve in private,” Castillo Clark said via email. “It says a great deal about how understanding, compassionate, and caring LC students are.”

While Castillo Clark wishes to uphold the privacy of the families, she recognizes that it is difficult for students to grieve under these circumstances.

“I don’t pretend to have the solution for everyone, but here are a couple of suggestions: Perhaps some of you will find comfort in just knowing that by respecting the family’s wishes, you are also honoring the memory of the student,” Castillo Clark said. “Others may feel more comforted by getting together with friends to share your feelings of loss and any memories you have of the student.”

MacWilliamson also felt for students who were frustrated by the lack of information, but encouraged caution.

“We hear that students feel in the dark about what went on last night; this feeling can be frightening, especially to new students in an unfamiliar place,” MacWilliamson said. “We understand the outrage many students feel about the tragic event. However, we must give the family, friends, and peers time to grieve and process what happened: it has been less than 24 hours since the tragedy. To the impacted families, anger may read as disrespectful to our lost peer and those injured at this time, so please be mindful and compassionate with your words.”

However, a few days after the incident, a self-published article written by a current student circulated on social media evoking the same anger MacWilliamson asked students to avoid. The since-deleted article blamed “LC’s greed” for the death of the student, citing negligence. The article also brought up other complaints the student had with LC, such as sexual harassment case management. 

While the incident raises questions about LC’s legal liability, no fault of the college can be substantiated at this point in time. While some students supported the message of the self-published article, many others criticized it for making assumptions about the college’s responsibility due to the absence of any reliable information.

Several days later, on Sept. 1, ASB invited the community to hold space in J.R. Howard 202. Before this event, they had canceled their previously planned Open House and extended the deadline to run for senate to accommodate the time students may have needed to cope.

For upper-class students, this is not their first time attending LC when another student died. During New Student Orientation in 2019, a first-year student died by suicide off-campus. In March of 2021, a first-year student named Roan Mulholland died of unknown causes. Most recently, Finnegan Woodruff, who was finishing up credits for a degree at Bowdoin College, died in a white river rafting accident in November 2021.

Castillo Clark sympathizes with students who have witnessed peers die while they have attended college.

“My heart goes out to all of you,” Castillo Clark said. “I can only imagine the deep sadness and additional emotional burden you and other upperclass students are carrying having lost friends and classmates.  My advice to you and your peers is the same as it is to those who are suffering in the wake of the most recent event: take care of each other and yourselves.”

Reflecting on these experiences, Castillo Clark shared that she endured something similar while she attended college.

“When I was a sophomore in college, a friend of mine died in a small plane crash,” Castillo Clark said. “I was deeply saddened and shocked at hearing the news. We were supposed to be orientation leaders together that summer. I remember the last conversation we had was about collaborating on some events with our respective fraternity and sorority organizations. I was so sad that I wouldn’t see him again, but I was grateful that I would always have the memories of how he made people feel through his kind and caring ways as a friend.”

Though it is unknown at this time what details will be released to the public about the Aug. 29 incident, more information is forthcoming.

Correction Sept. 19: An earlier version of this story misidentified the campus safety officer who performed CPR on the student as a bystander.

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