In the wake of last week’s tragedies, police cars, television stations and reporters have swarmed campus. Events, meetings and classes have been postponed or cancelled leaving many to wonder what will happen next.
On Friday, May 8 at 3:16 a.m, the Campus Police, Sarasota County EMS and the Sarasota Police Department responded to a report of an unresponsive registered guest in Z Residence Hall. It was later released that the subject was 21-year-old Dylan Besser, a University of Central Florida student. This case is still under investigation.
Two days later both police departments and the Sarasota County EMS responded to another report of an unresponsive male student in Pei Second Court Residence Hall on Sunday, May 10 at 3:18 p.m. It was reported later that night at the emergency Community Meeting that the subject was first-year Julian Toomsen-Hall, age 18. The Sarasota P.D. is assisting the school in the investigation.
President Donal O’Shea released an email update on Monday afternoon stating that the Sarasota County Police has confirmed that both deaths were drug related.
“We are all reeling with shock, and we join his family and friends in mourning his loss,” O’Shea said in an email sent out to the school on Sunday. “We need to be especially mindful and supportive of each other as we complete this semester. This incident reminds us of how precious and fragile life is, and how important each of us is to our community. Please take care, and let us also agree to look out for one another.”
The type and sources of the drugs have yet to be announced, awaiting the toxicology reports. The report could take anywhere between four and eight weeks and school officials will contact students over the summer with any updates.
“I don’t think our drug and alcohol problem is any worse at NCF than it is at any Florida school or college,” Chief of Campus Police Michael Kessie said.
The Sarasota P.D. stated in a press release that, “As a warning to students, residents and visitors, Officers with the Sarasota Police Department have received intelligence that suggests there is an increase of the pharmaceutical drug, Fentanyl, being mixed with street drugs in the Sarasota area. This mixture could have deadly consequences. Officers do not know at this time if this is the case in the deaths of the two people at New College and will not know until toxicology reports are returned.” Despite last week’s tragedies, New College has not had a single student die on campus since 2005.
Though grief runs deep through campus, communal bonds have become stronger and students have grown closer in order to help and console one another.
“This past weekend has been incredibly heartbreaking for the entire New College community, but I’ve been so touched and so proud to witness how quickly everyone has come together in support of one another,” third-year Catalyst staff writer and Pei RA Kaylie Stokes said. “I know that everyone here cares deeply for one another and the safety of our community. I couldn’t be more impressed with how gracefully and empathetically all of my fellow RAs have responded in the past 48 hours, even in the midst of their own grief and stress.”
At 10 p.m on Sunday night, a group of more than 60 students lit tea lights by the bay in remembrance of both Toomsen-Hall and Besser. Students sat along the edge of the bay in silence for more than an hour, their candles flickering around them. The New College Student Alliance (NCSA) and other groups on campus have sponsored special gatherings in order to give students support and company. Pizza, cupcakes and other food has been available for free in various locations as well. This relieves many students from having to cook and gives them a space to feel comfortable and supported.
The NCSA is working to create events over the next few days such as movie nights and community remembrance efforts in order to bring students together to reflect and give support to one another. On Wednesday, May 13, the NCSA is planning to offer a letter-writing session that would allow faculty, staff and students to write letters to the families of the deceased. “The best we can do to support the families of the deceased is to let them know that we as a community stand in solidarity about how much this student meant to our community,” NCSA Co-President Paige Pellaton said.
Co-Presidents Pellaton and Shelby Statham have worked tirelessly to provide events and programs to support students. “We are also in talks with several students about different things we can do on campus to memorialize those we have lost, though Shelby and I are very adamant about allowing the students time to heal and to generate their own ideas about how they’d like to celebrate the life of the victims. We very much feel that the projects students were discussing on the [forum], such as planting a tree with a plaque dedicated in memory, designating a day to dress in all black, starting a bracelet and ribbon campaign to remember who we’ve lost, are all very respectful and appropriate ideas that we’d love to help the students see come to fruition.”
At this past Sunday’s Community Meeting, Dean of Student Affairs Tracy Murry stated that Fall incoming students will be informed of the deaths when they arrive on campus. Pellaton and Statham have plans in the works for the Fall and first-year Orientation to increase education on substance abuse.
“There is talk with administration of creating a Drug Task Force that Shelby and I would serve on to voice student opinion and make sure student rights are protected,” Pellaton said. “Additionally, we are hoping to start a Drug Awareness and Education program, with help from Students for Sensible Drug Policy, next year to increase information and conversation on campus about student safety, specifically in relation to drug and alcohol awareness and addiction prevention.”
Though she cannot officially comment on whether or not these tragedies will affect events such as Walls and PCP, Pellaton did state that every student concerned about Walls and Graduation PCP should be present at Wednesday’s Emergency Towne Meeting on May 13 at 6:00 p.m. in Palm Court. There will be an Alternative Faculty meeting on Wednesday, May 12 from 3:30 p.m.-5:00 p.m. The meeting is open to staff and students as a place to have constructive conversations about last week’s events. The Counseling and Wellness Center is open for walk-in counseling from 9:00 a.m.-5:00 p.m. Additionally, there will be an RA on duty in the Gender and Diversity center until 8:00 a.m.
You can report any anonymous tips to the NCF Campus Police at (941) 487-4210
Sarasota P.D. Detective Sergeant Tom Shanafelt at 941-954-7089
Crime Stoppers by calling 941-366-TIPS (8477) and online www.sarasotacrimestoppers.com