Cornell’s Morbid History

29 07 2008

This is not a very fun topic to talk about, and I completely understand if someone is uncomfortable reading it. I am by no means offended if anyone chooses not to read this entry.


So today, I was at work when one of my supervisors opened up discussion about some of the students she has had as employees over the past twenty years. She originally worked with the hotel before transferring to store operations a couple of years ago. two particularly tragic moments sttod out in her mind; one was the death of a student after they were hit by a TCAT bus, and the other was a case where two students who had been using drugs at a party jumped from the Statler right around Hotel Ezra Cornell.

So, I decided to do a little side research into Cornell’s darker, morbid history. The first incident my supervisor recalled was the death of junior Michelle Evans after she was struck and killed by a TCAT on Dragon Day in March 2000 [1]. The driver of the bus was D.U.I. and strayed from the street. The Evans family would later sue TCAT and Cornell and was awarded a settlement of $3 million, which has been used to set up a memorial scholarship in her name.

The other incident I have yet to find any inforamation on. She said it was unlikely I’d find much anyway, since the whole thing was kept as quiet as possible (how you do that with two students jumping to their death must be quite a feat).

Cornell is no stranger to death in the student population. One of the more famous cases is the death of lacrosse player Mario St. George Boiardi, a senior who was struck in the chest with a ball while playing defesneman during a game versus Binghamton. He collapsed on the field, and although attempts were made to revive him, Boiardi was prononuced dead at Cayuga Medical Center at 6:44 P.M. on March 17, 2004 [2]. My supervisor was still at the hotel when the family arrived in Ithaca, and she described Mrs. Boiardi as “blotto”, as she had to carried by two people, since she was moaning in grief and wandering aimlessly through the lobby when they came for their son. She further described that Mrs. Boiardi seemed “all cried out, like she ran out of tears.”

Other times, an individual feels that should take their own life. Cornell is one of the few institutions that keeps a relatively accurate track of suicide, probably because of our infamous, and rather unfair, reputation; records indicate that it averages 4.3 per 100,000 student years, or about .82 deaths a year (assuming 19,000 students at Cornell; this does not distinguish between grad and undergrad) [3]. This is below the national average, which stands at about 7.5 per 100,000 student years. But as contradictory as things like to be, this DUE letter says it is 1.56 per 100,000 [12].

As for jumping from the gorge, a popular jab at our institution:

1- Takehiro Hara, a law student from Tokyo, accidentally fell into the gorge around December 3, 1999. His body was recovered two days later. His death was ruled accidental, with the cause being asphyxiation by drowning. [1]

2- Dan Pirfo, a freshman from Washington D.C, disappeared during the night of April 24, 2005. His body was located on May 10 at the base of Ithaca Falls. [4]

3- Junior Keith O’Donnell died on September 13, 2007, after suffering head injuries sustained in a fall after falling 30 feet into Cascadilla Gorge near the Glen Walk on the 8th of the month. [5] Curiously, a later sun article reports this as a drowning death [6].

4- The drowning death of graduate student Aravind Lakshamanan on August 14, 2006, the third that month. A 28 year old visitor, Navin Parthasarathy of California, and a local man in his 60s also lost their lives in the gorge that same month, although the latter has been disputed as to whether or not it was a suicide. [6, 7]

5- Most recently, the death of Douglas Lowe ’11, who drowned June 12, 2008 after being caught in the strong current of the Fall Creek Gorge. [6]

Most of the recent gorge deaths don’t appear to be suicides, but tragic accidental deaths.

Another cause of death are fire-related injuries/ailments, such as the death of fifth-year art student Ian Alberta on May, 13 2006. Alberta was killed when his apartment caught fire as the result of smoking materials not being put out properly, according to news reports [13]. I walk past that house every day on my way to work; it cost $50,000 to reapir damages, but someone fixed it up. With the exception of the awkward shingle patches on the roof, you’d never know anything had happened here.

And sometimes, and this is what would really, really suck, is that you just up and die. That’s pretty much what happened to a 25 year old grad student in his lab in April 2003. He just collapsed at 10 P.M. on April 1, and died the following morning in the hospital[8]. Or the death of Scott Paavola, a sophomore in engineering, who died Oct. 15, 2002, of a medical condition associated with an enlarged heart. Yet, he was perfectly healthy otherwise, a swimmer for Cornell and a brother at Phi Kappa Psi [11].

I’m not even making a decent attempt to chronicle earlier deaths. The gorge death of Danny Sastrowardoyo ’87, who died May 30, 1986 [7]. The beating death of junior Todd M. Crane on October 5, 1989 [9]. The curious death of Terrence Quinn ’93, who was found dead and upside-down in Psi Upsilon’s chimney on Janurary 15, 1993 [10]. He wasn’t even a member of that house, and no one knows exactly how he got there; but he died of “positional asphyxia”, meaning the way his neck was bent slowly cut off his air supply, suffocating him.

Even after this entry was initially written, I have  come back to include the deaths of Matthew Lanzing ’09 [14] and Nicolas Kau ’12 [15] (it would appear that Kau died over vacation, falling from a ninth story window [16]). The swine flu scare resulted in hundreds being sick, and at least one student who died from complications related to the H1N1 virus, Warren J. Schor ’11, an AEM student who was a member of ZBT.

In a school of 19,000+ students, bad things are going to happen as a matter of probability and reality. We accept these risks as we live life at Cornell day-to-day. It’s tragic, and it’s still a (sad) part of our history as an institution.


Holy crap, if it bleeds, it leads…a lot:



















6 responses

18 03 2010

“Ithacating”…it’s been a while I’ve heard that. After hearing about 2 recent “gorge outs” recently, a cousin of my sent me this blog. When I was a freshman in ’72, there were two purported gorge events and one suicide (hanging.) Unless you didn’t go back far enough, I was curious as to why these two events weren’t reported. The alledged 1st occured Sept 4, 1972, 1st day of classes while the second, I can’t remember the date, was someone was challenged by his “buddies” to do a hand stand on the Thurston Ave bridge…he was drunk. He lost.

Anyone out there who can confirm these?

As this blog has pointed out, Cornell goes out its way to not make these incidents well known.

25 04 2011

Please, does anyone know anything about the death of Mariel Christie? She graduated in ’10…I went to highschool with her and she was SOO nice to me always- I want to know what happened? I only know she was found dead in July of ’10…I’m sorry if this is inappropriate but this just really bothers me she was such a nice person. Thank you

19 08 2011

Mariel’s death to this day, over a year later, is still being investigated.
There have been many questions surrounding her death and the investigation-
conflicting accounts and items missing from police’s care to name a few.
You and many others are bothered by her death. She was an exceptional gift to us. Thank you for caring.

28 11 2011

i really wanted to know about mariel christie too .The thought of her death being under investigation is really scary i dont want to be nosy but we were such good friends in middle school we stayed in contact even after i moved and now.. god i miss her and it bothers me so much that the police wont put more time and effort to get to the bottom of this horrible death of such a well loved friend

10 01 2013

Mariel was such a wonderful person and her positive influence on me in high school will never be forgotten. I don’t think I would have made it through those years without her (and her amazing toosh). I miss her terribly and read her senior year message to me often. I hope she is at peace and it bothers me that so little is known of her passing. I will love you forever and always Mariel. ❤

22 08 2015

Michelle Scholar…pretty sure that was her name..she was in a class with me and I believe was a gorge death. Sometime around 68-70. I can still see her long dark hair…

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