The school year at Columbia University is off to a somber start: On Monday night an incoming freshman student was found dead after she either jumped or fell from the 14th floor window of her New York City dormitory.
Eighteen-year-old Martha Corey-Ochoa, a first-year student from nearby Westchester County, was found unconscious by two of her fellow freshmen students at 11 p.m. on Monday just outside John Jay Hall, a residence hall where many freshmen students live. Many students began moving into the dorms on Monday to get ready for the school year, which officially begins Sept. 4. According to the Columbia Spectator, a campus newspaper, she was pronounced dead on arrival at St. Luke’s-Roosevelt Hospital sometime later that night.
Brian Connolly, assistant vice president for public affairs, sent the following statement via email to TIME:
“The Columbia community mourns the loss of Martha Corey-Ochoa, a first-year student at Columbia College, and extends our very deepest condolences to her family and friends. To support Columbia’s students and their families through this sad and difficult time, the dean of undergraduate student affairs has been informing our community of counseling services and other resources available through Counseling and Psychological Services, the Office of the University Chaplain, the Office of Parent and Family Programs, and Resident Assistants and Graduate Hall Directors.”
According to the Spectator, around 2:15 a.m. Kevin Shollenberger, dean of student affairs, sent an email to students confirming the death. “It is with deep regret that I write to inform you of a death earlier this evening of one of our students,” he wrote. “Whenever there is a death such as this, we are all struck by a wide range of emotions and a deep sense of loss. Especially during this difficult time, please rely on one another, your family, and University offices for support.”
Shollenberger sent another email at 5:20 a.m., which Connolly forwarded to TIME, releasing the name of the student. “I am following up to inform you that the student who passed away earlier this evening has been identified as Columbia College student Martha Corey-Ochoa,” he said. “Martha was passionate about mathematics and literature, and recognized as a very talented writer.”
According to a local news site, Corey-Ochoa was valedictorian of her class at Dobbs Ferry High School in Westchester. “It feels really good,” Corey-Ochoa told the Rivertowns Daily Voice about being named valedictorian. ” I feel like it’s something I’ve been working toward for many years, and I’m glad it’s finally come to pass.” She also said that she planned to double major in English and math and Columbia. “I’m looking to get a Ph.D. and teach at a university,” she said. “I’ll probably end up teaching mathematics, but I’d like to continue working in the English language and possibly publish some books of poetry.”
In Sept. 2011, another local news site reported that Corey-Ochoa was nominated for a National Merit Scholarship. The article describes Corey-Ochoa as having played the violin since third grade and having composed music. She also was working on a novel and planned to study English in college. “Music inspires my writing,” Corey-Ochoa said. “I love analyzing music and literature and making connections between disciplines.” On her Facebook page, her likes include Bruce Spingsteen, Beethoven, Twilight, Star Wars, and several ballet companies.
The New York City medical examiner’s office will determine whether the death was a suicide or an accident, according to the Associated Press.
Shollenberger concluded his second email to students, saying, “We extend our deepest condolences to the family of this student. As we continue to cope with the loss of one of our valued community members, we remain committed to ensuring the health and well being of our Columbia family.”