Breaking News: Student dies after falling from eighth floor of Elise

Updated Wednesday, Sept. 8, 10:30 p.m.

Sophomore Susan Shin died Wednesday afternoon after falling from the eighth floor of the Elise Apartments building. A computer science major, Shin, 19, of Ashland, Ohio, was an active member of the Engineers’ Council and the Association for Computer Machinery.

Officials at the Chief Medical Examiner’s Office said they are still investigating the cause of death, which is the sixth among GW students since December 2003.

Det. Christopher MacWilliams, who is investigating the case for the medical examiner’s office, was unavailable for comment Wednesday. Metropolitan Police Department officials said they could neither confirm nor deny whether foul play was involved in Shin’s death.

“At this point in time, it’s very early in the investigation,” Capt. Michael Jacobs said. “I don’t feel comfortable talking about the investigation at this time.”

Alan Etter, a spokesman for the D.C. Fire Department, said fire crews responded to the apartment building at 11:03 a.m. and found that Shin suffered “multi-system trauma, internal injuries, broken bones and a possible broken back.”

Shin fell from her eighth floor apartment and landed in a courtyard abutted by an apartment building and hotel, which cannot be easily accessed from the street. The Elise is located at 825 New Hampshire Ave. and is a popular off-campus residence among GW students.

Fire department officials initially said Shin was 24 years old, and at approximately 12:30 p.m., MPD officials said she was in stable condition at GW Hospital. But Tracy Schario, GW’s director of Media Relations, said the sophomore died at about noon.

Shin’s friends, who expressed shock at her death, described her as kindhearted and empathetic. They also said she was organized and had a great sense of style.

“We would always talk, and she would always give a smile to everybody,” sophomore Ryan Davis said. “She always seemed upbeat.”

Residents of the Elise’s eighth floor said Shin was a quiet person who was not very social. Chris Paniewski, a first-year law student who lived down the hall from Shin, said he often saw her in the hall and elevator.

“She seemed to keep to herself,” he said. “She didn’t smile when I smiled back to her. Very quiet demeanor.”

Eighth floor resident C.J. Soschin, a junior, said Shin was wearing headphones when he saw her in the elevator Tuesday night.

“She did not seem like she wanted to talk to me,” Soschin said.

Shin served as the professional development chair and corresponding secretary of Theta Tau, a national engineering honors fraternity.

Timothy Tong, dean of the engineering school, sent an e-mail to all engineering students Wednesday evening informing them of Shin’s death and urged her friends to visit the University Counseling Center at 2033 K St.

“We are awaiting more information from the University regarding the circumstance of Susan’s death, and I plan to send you another e-mail as soon as we receive any information on memorial services,” Tong wrote.

University President Stephen Joel Trachtenberg called Shin’s death a “sad day” for GW and described her as a “bright young woman who made her mark in and out of the classroom.”

“We are stunned and saddened by Susan’s passing,” Trachtenberg wrote in a statement. “As parents, teachers and students, we extend our deepest condolences to her family and friends.”

Diane DePalma, director of the University Counseling Center, said students affected by Shin’s death should contact her department.

“What we are doing is encouraging students to call us either for themselves or if they know of others directly affected,” DePalma said. “We are then calling students as well and reaching out to students identified to us to let them know we are here.”

DePalma also said she would contact members of student groups Shin belonged to and invite them to counseling. The center also took out a suicide prevention ad in today’s Hatchet.

“We will adapt what we offer depending on the needs of students,” she said.

DePalma added that students can call the center at 994-5300 to make appointments or stop in unscheduled at 3 p.m. on weekdays. After office hours or on weekends, students can call the University Police Department or visit the center’s Web site at http://gwired.gwu.edu/counsel.

She also said students considering suicide should call a national prevention hotline at1-800-SUICIDE and talk with counselors.

In May, GW established a commission to examine GW’s reactions to student deaths; the commission, which is chaired by Associate Dean of Students Mike Walker, is expected to release its findings in the next month.

Shin’s death is similar to Monday’s death of a New York University graduate student, Joanna Leavy. Leavy fell to her death from the Tisch School’s main building on Monday morning. She was the sixth student to fall to her death at NYU in the last year.

In April, GW freshman Hasan Hussain jumped to his death from his room on the Hall on Virginia Avenue’s fourth floor.

-Michael Barnett and Katie Rooney contributed to this report.

Further information will be posted on www.gwhatchet.com as it becomes available.

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