Safety and security University Police works to keep students safe, raise awareness among recent student deaths

The Appalachian Online

by Andrew Clausen Contributing Writer

February 26, 2015

        report comes over the radio that a possible unattended death has occurred on campus. University Police’s General Patrol responds, racing to the scene, likely arriving second only to the emergency responders. If a deceased individual is found, the scene goes into immediate lockdown. An officer is posted to stand guard over the scene, logging and recording everyone who goes in and out. Another is helping canvass the area.

 

Anytime a death occurs at Appalachian State University, Investigations is called. Led by Investigations Commander Capt. Todd Corley, the team of four detectives handles open-ended cases such as larcenies, breaking-and-enterings, assaults and deaths. Once at the scene, they begin to canvass and collect evidence.

 

“Of course, everything is always different, no two things are the same,” Corley said. “But we’re very methodical and we work these crime scenes based on our training and experience.”

 

 

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University Police officers respond to an intoxicated person on an AppalCart bus in 2012. Photo by Olivia Wilkes

During the initial response, which takes place over the first four to six hours, the team is photographing, collecting evidence, dusting for prints, doing carpet tapings for fibers and more depending on the situation. Meanwhile, other University Police officers and detectives help with the canvassing, asking students if they knew the individual, asking how the individual had been, if they’ve noticed anything unusual and other questions of the like.

 

In the event of a death, a medical examiner, or M.E. is the only one who can approve removing the body from the scene and the only one who can determine cause of death by state law.

 

Once the M.E. is involved, Investigations has no say in what is written on the examiner’s report, but they are the ones who give him or her the information from the scene. Corley phones the M.E. two or three times throughout the process. He relays in vivid detail everything that he sees. Whether it’s something related to the body or the scene of the incident in general, he gives as much information as possible so the examiner can make a preliminary diagnosis and approve the removal.

 

The body is then transported to the M.E.’s lab for further and more complete testing so that they can determine an official cause of death. If they’re dealing with alcohol or a drug overdose, sometimes there isn’t apparent evidence at the scene and it’s the toxicology report from the M.E.’s lab that makes the conclusion, a process that can take months unless there’s reason to believe public safety is at risk.

 

Once the identity of the deceased is determined, Dean of Students J.J. Brown is first at Appalachian to be contacted outside of law enforcement so that the family may be informed. University Police helps with this process as needed, even after the case is considered closed.

 

“We continue to talk to the family,” Corley said. “If they want to meet with the investigator, we’ll meet whenever they want to meet and we go over however much they want to know. We’re glad to share it with them.”

If it looks wrong, it probably is wrong. If you feel like a situation is bad, try and put distance between you and whatever is happening and please call us.”

-Johnny Brown

Police Captain

Many Appalachian students have felt anxious or fearful about the deaths of nine currently enrolled students this year. Seven occurred off-campus and two occurred on-campus. Two of the deaths have been confirmed as suicide, while three were “the result of unrelated motor vehicle accidents,” according to an email sent out by Chancellor Sheri N. Everts, Interim Provost and Executive Vice Chancellor Stan Aeschleman, and Brown. The email stated that the cause of death for the other four have not been provided to the university, but the medical examiner reported to the Charlotte Observer that two of the four were suicide while a third was a drug overdose.

 

Student deaths are always difficult for a university, and while the number seems high this academic year, Appalachian has faced this before. Since spring 2012, there have been 28 student deaths total and only two semesters without a recorded death. Summer 2012 to spring 2013 saw 12 deaths. Summer 2014 to spring 2015 has seen 13 deaths. The remaining three happened during fall 2013 and spring 2014, according to information provided by the Dean of Students’ office.

 

Suicide is the third leading cause of death for persons 15 to 24 years old, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Unintentional injury, which includes motor vehicle accidents, is number one while homicide is number two.

 

University Police is advocating students be more aware and take more precautionary steps that can help keep them safe from day to day. Officer Amber Stanley Swift’s advice is not to be naïve and think Boone is automatically safe because it’s a small town.

 

“Be aware that anything can happen, anywhere,” Stanley Swift said.

 

She suggests that students take the Rape Aggression Defense, or RAD, course that they offer. The course teaches male and female students defense techniques and self-defense tactics against “various types of assault.”

 

Officers stand by a roadblock on the intersection of South Water Street and Rivers Street near the wooded area where an unidentified body was found early in the morning Sept 13. The body was later confirmed to be that of  Appalachian State University student Anna Smith, who was reported missing on Sept. 4.

Photo by Chris Deverell

Capt. Johnny Brown believes these courses are important to student safety, but does fear they may not be reaching those who need the training most.

 

“The only bad thing about some of the programs is that our target audience isn’t always who we want sometimes,” Brown said. “Most of the ones that show up aren’t the ones that we’re trying to reach out to.”

 

Other than being aware of surroundings, students can be safer by avoiding wearing headphones when walking or play music at a low volume so that they can hear cars honk or someone sneaking up on them.

 

Communication is also key to student safety. Letting friends know with a simple text or call that they are leaving somewhere or walking back home late at night, or letting someone know that they’ve seen something suspicious and its location can be imperative in case something does happen.

 

But at the end of the day, the best advice is to go with gut feeling.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Student deaths by semester

Spring 2015

Fall 2014

Summer 2014

Spring 2014

Fall 2013

Summer 2013

Spring 2013

Fall 2012

Summer 2012

Spring 2012

4

5

4

1

2

0

3

5

4

0

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