Tragedy strikes orientation festivities

An 18-year-old female first year student passed away after being struck by lightning as she was walking back from campus during a period of severe weather in the area Sept. 5.

“The incident took place around 9 a.m., when a 911 call was placed immediately. The student was taken from campus to hospital, where sadly she died of her injuries,” said Nick Manning, director of media relations at UW.

The female student was struck by lightning on the path connecting the main campus to the residences, close to Village 1. She was found by the fire department under a large pine tree, where emergency services responded immediately.

Contrary to earlier reports, the student was walking back to her dorm room in Village 1 residences when she was struck. The administration could not confirm if she took cover under a tree, where she was coming from, or what she was doing prior to the incident.

According to a Waterloo Regional Police Service (WRPS) press release, the first-year student is from Markham, Ontario and was set to start her post-secondary studies this week in nanotechnology engineering.

The WRPS online statement also confirms that the coroner’s office is currently investigating the “circumstances surrounding the incident,” while the Ministry of Labour has also been contacted.

Imprint received an email from the UW administration which stated that since this incident resulted in the critical injury of a person, they are obligated to report this to the Ministry of Labour as the UW campus is considered a workplace.

UW president and vice-chancellor, Feridun Hamdullahpur, addressed the media in a press conference at QNC Sept. 5, where he revealed the family has requested privacy and have asked the University of Waterloo and WRPS not to release the name of the victim.

“On behalf of our entire community of students, faculty, staff, and alumni, I express heartfelt condolences to this student’s family, friends, and fellow students at this profoundly difficult time,” Hamdullahpur said.

He added, “I remind our University of Waterloo community members, and students in particular, that our counselling services team is available to support you.”

Three students have been identified or reported as witnesses by other media outlets. CBC News KW spoke to two of the witnesses, Daniel Obadun and Obina Ohuabunwa.

“She had burns all over her skin, her clothes were torn off. She was just laying lifeless with smoke coming out of her body,” Obadun said to CBC.

Ohuabunwa added, “There’s this feeling like, if I was there faster, could I have done something to help her? It’s devastating, really sad.”

The third witness has been identified as Abbey Sayles, who “saw the student lying in the mulch after being struck by lightning,” according to The Record reporter Liz Monteiro’s Twitter account.

Danielle Burt, Feds president, echoed the administration saying that students who have been affected by the incident in any way should contact UW Counselling Services for assistance as soon as possible.

Members of the media asked both Hamdullahpur and Chris Read, associate provost of students, about the series of fire drills occurring around campus and other residences close to the time of the incident, despite the storm in the area.

Imprint spoke to students from UWP, REV, and V1, who said they had fire drills around 8:30–8:50 a.m., despite the rumbles of thunder and rain in the area.

“Fire drills are a routine part of our orientation week, and yes this morning we did have fire drills, however, it was a completely different part of campus, miles apart from where the incident took place. There is no linkage between this unfortunate accident and the fire drills,” Hamdullahpur said.

The administration assured the media the storm caught them off guard.

When asked why students were only informed through social media after the storm and not prior to its commencement, Read said, “The storm came on so fast. For those in the area, they know how quickly it came on, and it didn’t last very long. It is really sad what happened, but the monitoring of the weather is something we do regularly, but it wasn’t something we were prepared for, and I think that is understandable in this situation.” 

Orientation week events originally planned for Sept. 5 were cancelled, including the alternate programming which was scheduled shortly after the press conference. The alternate programming was cancelled due to another round of extreme weather.

However, the University of Waterloo proceeded with the scheduled events on Black and Gold Day last Saturday.

The UW community has shown their support for the family by creating a small memorial at the site of her tragic death, honouring the first-year student’s memory and life.