Appalachian State Reaches Out after 5 Student Deaths This Year

Appalachian State Reaches Out after 5 Student Deaths This Year

4:38pm Jan 25, 2015
Freshman Anna Smith of High Point, 18, is one of five Appalachian State students who have died this year.
Appalachian State University photo

It’s been a heartbreaking year at Appalachian State University, where five students have died since the start of the school year in August. That includes two students from Wake County who died in separate incidents last week.

The year got off to a difficult start when freshman Anna Smith of High Point went missing within the first weeks of the school year. After her body was found, investigators determined the 18-year-old had killed herself.

Dean of Students J.J. Brown spoke with WFDD’s Paul Garber about how the university reaches out not only to students, but also to the students’ family members, who receive a book of remembrance from the Appalachian State community with thoughts and recollections from students and other members of the Appalachian community.

The University has in recent years developed a free app and Web site call App Cares. It's a central source for student health and safety, with crime alerts, information on sexual assaults and suicide prevention, and contact information for counseling and other resources.

Brown says when there's a death on campus, Appalachian counselors and administrators try to identify the connections the student has to the college to talk to students in their living area, major and campus organizations. The idea is to make sure students know that there is help available if they need it. In some cases, students who are closest to the deceased are allowed to go home for care.

Brown says the conversations are a chance to have an open dialogue with students, some of whom are experiencing loss for the first time.

He says he thinks often about the death of Anna Smith and wonders if a few more weeks at school would have made a difference. He says he expects the rash of deaths this year to be a topic of conversation at orientation for next fall's incoming class, and they will be given information about support services  and resources.  

The most recent student death occurred Thursday, when 21-year-old Jacob Dylan Whitaker of Wake Forest died in a two-car crash. On Monday, 19-year-old Mary Catherine Johnson of Raleigh was found dead in her dorm room. A cause of death has not been released but foul play is not suspected. 

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