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Student deaths hit BU’s campus hard

Vigil held at chapel, and counseling offered to all

Jeremy Putz signed a water polo ball in honor of teammate Austin Brashears at a BU vigil Saturday night. Jeremy Putz signed a water polo ball in honor of teammate Austin Brashears at a BU vigil Saturday night. (Matthew J. Lee/Globe staff)
By Evan Allen and Martine Powers
Globe Correspondent | Globe Staff / May 13, 2012
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The signs of summer were everywhere at Boston University on Saturday: finals ended Friday, and Commonwealth Avenue was dotted with students dragging suitcases, trying on graduation robes, and carrying armfuls of textbooks for reselling.

But as students celebrated the conclusion of the year, devastating news once again made its way across campus.

The deaths of three students studying abroad has brought further tragedy to a campus that has been slammed by one catastrophe after another this semester.

The students - Roch Jauberty, Daniela Lekhno, and Austin Brashears - were almost finished with their semester in New Zealand when they were killed when their van rolled over as they were traveling to visit a legendary volcanic site filmed for “The Lord of the Rings’’ movies. Five other students were injured.

On campus, it all seemed too familiar.

“It’s been a rough year,’’ said Hannah Waxman, 19, who has just completed her freshman year at BU. “A lot has happened in a short amount of time.’’

In January, sophomore Joshua Goldenberg suffered serious head trauma after jumping from a second-floor window to escape a blaze in an Allston apartment building.

Two BU hockey players were arrested on sexual assault charges.

And in April, graduate student Kanagala Seshadri Rao, 24, was found dead, with gunshot wounds to his head and leg, on a residential Allston street.

Beth Kozik, a crisis counselor with the university, said that while it has been a very challenging semester, “we’re pulling through.’’

“We’re a strong community,’’ she said, “and we have been here for the students and supporting each other.’’

Counseling was offered to students Saturday at Marsh Chapel and Student Health Services, according to the university. Teachers could get counseling through the Employee Assistance Program. University staff planned to walk around campus Saturday night to check on students and ask how they are doing, said Kenn Elmore, the university’s dean of students.

Nearly 200 students gathered for a candlelight vigil at the chapel Saturday at 8 p.m. They stood in a circle around the steps of the chapel, holding candles that they lit by passing a flame person to person at the end of the service. They hugged and cried as administrators and students spoke of the importance of gathering as a community to heal.

“Carry the light of these young lives,’’ said Brother Lawrence Whitney, the university chaplain. “Let us remember that life is short . . . be swift to love and make haste to be kind.’’

Organizers set out blank sheets of paper for students to write messages to the friends they had lost, which will be sent to the victims’ families. As students dispersed, they left their candles at the base of the statue in the courtyard.

The back-to-back timing of so many tragedies on campus has left students and administrators weary.

“It’s such a horrible end to the year,’’ said Chelsea Trim, 19.

Many students had heard Friday about the accident in New Zealand, but did not learn until Saturday morning which students had been killed or injured.

“It was pretty scary,’’ said senior Sarah Vencloski, 22.

This tragedy seemed to have struck the campus hard.

“I haven’t seen people at BU this upset in a long time,’’ said Julien Paul, a rising senior.

Kelsey Shaw, 22, reflected on this as she sat in the sun near the Student Union building.

“I’m about to graduate, and of the four years I’ve been here, this is the worst year,’’ Shaw said. “It’s sort of depressing to leave on this note.’’

It’s a strange time for such disturbing events on campus, said Elmore, the dean of students. Most students have finished their year and are packing up to leave for the summer. In the next few days, three-quarters of the student body will be gone.

“You take these seniors - this is a week where they want to celebrate each other and the last time they may be here in an extended way,’’ Elmore said. “This puts them in a frame of mind where it can be difficult to celebrate, given a real tragedy in the community. It’s just a real deep sadness.’’

For some, the tragedy offered an opportunity for reflection.

Alex Howton, 20, said she didn’t know Brashears personally, but she would have worked with him next year as a student adviser.

His death prompted her to post on Facebook: “Life is too short; embrace it while you can.’’

Mary Carmichael of the Globe staff contributed to this report. Globe correspondent Evan Allen can be reached at evan.allen@globe.com. Follow her on Twitter @EvanMAllen. Martine Powers can be reached at mpowers@globe.com. Follow her on Twitter @martinepowers.

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