Members of the Wittenberg community silently filled Weaver Chapel on Feb. 18 for a service of support following the death of fellow student Alina Simon.
Alina Victoria Simon was a freshman transfer student, age 18, from Burbank, California, and a former resident of Bryan, Ohio. She passed away on the night of Tuesday, Feb. 17. Police responded to a call from Myers Hall, and the other residents were removed from the building to Weaver Chapel as emergency personnel handled the situation. While the coroner has not yet issued a ruling — and Wittenberg has not yet addressed the cause — the death is widely believed to be a suicide, as evidenced by students’ posts on social media and offerings by the university of resources such as the Suicide Prevention Hotline.
As the late afternoon sun shone through the stained glass windows and a single candle burned at the front of the sanctuary, Pastor Rachel Tune began the service by offering the chapel to all as a place to gather in the hopes that the space might lend support and comfort.
Pastor Rachel said “We need each other,” a sentiment shared with Casey Gill, dean of students.
“It’s really important for us to gather as a community and acknowledge our grief,” Gill said.
Both Gill and Wittenberg President Laurie Joyner encouraged students to reach out for comfort in this time of need, emphasizing the resource list that was handed out and sent via email.
“We can’t always provide answers, but we can provide support,” Gill said.
Gill also read a letter from Simon’s father expressing the family’s gratitude to Witt and the comfort from the support they have received.
“’Alina was a brilliant, kind and warm-hearted girl who lived her final days with the joy of being a Tiger,’” said Simon’s letter, read by Gill.
Gill concluded by saying, “I wish you all the comfort that you may need in this time, and I hope that we can find peace.”
After a moment of silence, junior Elaina Vimmerstedt sang “Amazing Grace” with her own accompaniment on guitar, and members of the community were invited to sing along.
Pastor Andy Tune closed in prayer, though many stayed longer to offer further support to one another.
According to the email from the Office of the Dean of Students, “The Clark County Coroner’s Office and Springfield Police Division are investigating the student’s death,” and more information will be released as it becomes available.
The Wittenberg community has come together in the wake of this tragedy, responding in many ways such as passing out black ribbons, leaving flowers on the steps of Myers Hall, holding events for comfort and support and circulating the hashtag #WittStrong on social media.
“We educate the mind to understand and the heart to care,” Gill said.
And Pastor Rachel Tune commented in the chapel, “I look around you all, and I see people who are here to care for each other.”
Anyone in need of further support is encouraged to reach out for help. In addition to the resources listed on the resource sheet sent out to campus emails are Peer Helpers and Success Ambassadors, whose names were also sent to emails, NAMI (National Alliance of the Mentally Ill); Talk One2One (a free and confidential 27/7 phone counseling service), whose number is 1-800-756-3124; and an interfaith reflection and prayer room on the second floor of Thomas Library.