Metropolitan Police are investigating the apparent drowning of a male GW sophomore in the Tidal Basin late Saturday night.
Friends remembered Philip Augustin, 20, a Crawford Hall resident, as a talented free-style rapper who always had a smile on his face.
“He was a really well-respected kid around campus,” said sophomore Ryan Smith, who roomed with Augustin last year in Thurston Hall. “Everyone knew Phil, it seemed like … Phil seemed to know everyone.”
Smith recalled instances when the West Orange, N.J., native, would invite homeless people into the Marvin Center and buy them food.
“(He’d) sit down with a homeless person and talk,” Smith said. “That kind of just sums up Phil.”
In an interview Sunday afternoon, Smith characterized the sentiment of Augustin’s friends as “just shock right now – shock and a mix of grief.”
“A lot of us just found out today, and some of us found out last night,” added Smith, who works as a sales representative in The Hatchet’s business office.
At 9:57 p.m. Saturday, Augustin was walking near the Tidal Basin with two friends when he jumped into the water, said Sgt. Joe Gentile, a Metropolitan Police spokesman. Park Police were called to the basin, located at 22nd Street and Independence Avenue, and recovered the body about an hour later.
MPD’s Violent Crimes branch is investigating Augustin’s death, said Gentile, who added, “It’s unknown why he reportedly jumped into the river.”
Gentile said the D.C. Medical Examiner’s office would perform blood and toxicology tests in its investigation of Augustin’s death.
“We have to conduct an investigation,” Gentile said. “We have to wait for the medical examiner.”
Augustin’s body was lying under a white sheet, with white Adidas shoes, visible until about 1:10 a.m. Firefighters and MPD officials then brought the body via stretcher to a waiting ambulance from the Medical Examiner’s office.
Five squad cars, a fire truck and unmarked security vehicles were parked in front of the FDR Memorial, which was partially cordoned off by yellow police tape. Fire officials lit the scene.
“What we have now is an investigation into what seems to be an accidental drowning,” MPD Capt. Scott Osterhuber said late Saturday night.
About 10 minutes before officials picked up the body, four college-age males with tears in their eyes accompanied by police personnel emerged from the scene. They would not comment on the incident.
Sophomore Valerie Cupp, a friend of Augustin’s, said she spoke with Augustin hours before his death, and believed her friend was at a party prior to walking near the Tidal Basin. Cupp and other friends said they often walked near the monuments at night.
At 10 p.m. Sunday night, about 80 students gathered at the Tidal Basin to remember Augustin with a quickly arranged candlelight vigil. With cold gusts of wind making it difficult to light their candles, mourners stood at the bank of the FDR Memorial to eulogize a person one student described as “one of the most charismatic and caring people I’ve ever known.”
After standing for several minutes in silence, students spontaneously made brief speeches about the sophomore.
“Phil was always trying to make things better,” one sophomore said.
“I always remembered all the times I had with Phil,” added the sophomore, his face partially illuminated from a candle held by the mourner standing next to him. “There was never a dull moment.”
A student who knew Augustin for only a month said he cherished the short time he played basketball with him.
“Looking at everybody here, not one soul here – everybody loved this man,” he said. “I feel denied that I only knew him for a month.”
Augustin is the fourth GW student to die in the last four months.
“We are stunned and saddened by the death of this young man, and our hearts go out to his family and friends,” said University President Stephen Joel Trachtenberg in a prepared statement. “In time of tragedy our University community always comes together to share our strength.
“This is one of the days we most need each other, and we can only hope that our collective thoughts, prayers and support will be a source of strength and comfort to his family,” he said.
A business school student, Augustin had a radio show on WRGW and was a writer for Verse magazine, a student-run publication. He also played the saxophone and performed at a D.C. jazz club on U Street.
“He loved the radio station,” sophomore Jamie Mitten said. “He always told people to listen to the radio station.”
Cupp said Augustin was “good at everything he did.”
“He could read your mind,” she said.
Sophomore Greg Godfrey, one of Augustin’s freshman year roommates, said the two became friends quickly after moving in together. He also said Augustin was close with his mother and younger sister.
“He was always doing something, always planning,” Godfrey said. “He had this incredible gift of meeting people.”
Sophomore Allison Davis, who lived next to Augustin last year in Thurston, said the New Jersey native was “a very nice kid.”
Davis said she saw Augustin walking on F Street Saturday afternoon. Augustin told Davis that he was “just chilling, hanging out.”
Asked if she noticed anything different in Augustin’s demeanor Saturday afternoon, Davis said, “nothing at all. He always seemed very happy.”
–Julie Gordon, Mosheh Oinounou and Gabriel Okolski contributed to this report.