More than 600 mourn student in candlelight vigil

Erica Terrini

News Editor

More than 600 students gathered at 11:30 p.m. Monday on the sidewalk across from Rhoads Hall to pay their respects in a candlelight vigil to freshman Sara Prescott, 18, whose body was found late Sunday night.

According to the investigation report by Richmond and VCU police departments, Prescott was found lying near Rhoads Hall, her residence. The Medical Examiner’s Office has ruled her death a suicide. Prescott died of blunt force trauma as the result of a fall.

During the vigil, students filed in a line, which wrapped around the corner sidewalk next to Monroe Park, facing the area where Prescott’s body was found late Sunday night.

Many stood silent, with their heads bowed and only the glow of candles lighting their faces, while others huddled with friends as they stared in the direction of the dimly lit alley between Rhoads Hall and Pace Campus Ministry. Some students began to sing, and a small group of students placed their candles on the sidewalk in a circle.

About 10 police officers from the VCU Police Department stood on the opposite facing sidewalk – just outside of Johnson and Brandt Halls – to monitor the large crowd for safety reasons.

About 30 minutes into the vigil, Prescott’s parents arrived and stayed briefly to join the outpouring of the VCU community. They later expressed their appreciation to the vigil organizer, Sally Blakemore, a freshman early childhood education and social work major.

“I woke up this morning and felt really, really bad about everything that had happened,” Blakemore said. “I just decided no one deserves to feel the way that she did and I wanted to make some sort of difference to her parents and to all of her friends out there to show that we as a student body and community care about what goes on.”

Blakemore, who had no previous connection to Prescott, said the idea to organize the vigil came after she discovered a Facebook group had been created to support Prescott’s friends and family.

Blakemore said after she began promoting the vigil on Facebook to reach out to the student body and VCU community, the number of attendants steadily increased. The Student Government Association offered to provide candles.

Reuban Rodriguez, associate vice provost and dean of student affairs, and VCU Police Chief John Venuti were also at the vigil.

Rodriguez said he had spoken with the residence assistant staff of Brandt and Rhoads halls along with Venuti and University Counseling Services in a meeting to address their feelings and how to assist others.

“It’s always a tragedy when a student loses their life,” Rodriguez said.

Rodriguez said the first step after any student death is to notify the parents. Based on the wishes of the family, the university will take further steps to inform the VCU student body, staff and faculty of the details they want released. He said part of his job as the dean of student affairs is to organize a university response in emergencies and the university worked quickly to issue a mass e-mail offering counseling services, but student safety is an ongoing discussion.

“A lot of people don’t realize — whether it’s certain circumstances or just ongoing protocol with safety measures — we literally consider every day, safety, as a primary importance for students in the residence halls,” Rodriguez said.

According to Jihad Aziz, the director of University Counseling Services, his department has been involved in several activities to support the university community.

Aziz stated in an e-mail counseling services has met with students individually and in groups who are directly affected, residence hall staff and security staff to help them process their experience and share  information about the grieving process, and classmates and faculty members who might have been affected. Counseling services has highlighted a link on their website, which provides information about the grief process and how to recognize and help someone in distress.

University Counseling Services has several protocols in place for emergencies, Aziz stated. Students have access  to an on-call counselor in a crisis situation at any hour of the day, seven days a week. In an emergency situation, students who seek services are seen immediately during our normal operating hours.  A number of protocols are in place for individuals who experience an emergency situation.

“When we have a situation where numerous people in the university community are impacted, we make our services available to the VCU community,” Aziz stated. “We meet with students, faculty, and staff in a variety of venues to provide information and support during difficult times. We also have contact with concerned parents or friends and provide them with information and helpful resources as well.”

For more information about University Counseling Services, visit To schedule an appointment with Monroe Park Campus counseling services, call 828-6200 or visit 907 Floyd Ave., Room 238. To schedule an appointment with the MCV Campus counseling services, call 828-3964 or visit Grant House at the Medical Center, located at 1008 East Clay St., Room B-011.

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