By Michaela Winberg & Grace Shallow via The Temple News
Mary Ciammetti watched a photo of her son, Christian, flash across the scoreboard during halftime of the 2015 Temple vs. Penn State game. She organized the presentation to promote a program she founded called Don’t Stall, Just Call, which educates young people about the dangers of binge drinking.
Christian, a junior landscape architecture major, died from alcohol poisoning in an off-campus apartment in January 2015.
Ciammetti collaborated with administrators from the Dean of Students office and put the presentation together on a tight deadline to have it shown at Lincoln Financial Field.
When the time finally came — and the 69,000 fans in attendance saw Christian on the Linc’s scoreboard — Ciammetti felt sick.
“It felt like we won the lottery for the worst thing in the world, to see our child up there,” Ciammetti said. “It was horrible.”
Christian was both shy and social. When he first met Julia Miller during their freshman year living in White Hall, she said he was awkward. She later found out that was because he had a crush on her — the two dated off and on until Christian died two years later. They loved skiing together, and Miller often watched Christian garden at his family’s property in Conshohocken, Pennsylvania.
“He was always very himself, which I think is hard for a lot of people in college,” said Miller, a 2016 neuroscience alumna. “Anyone would say that about him.”
He was devoted to landscape architecture and spent most of his time at Ambler Campus. He liked working with his hands — he built his mother a fire pit that still sits in her backyard. This is just one of the “really beautiful things” Christian built before he died, Ciammetti said.
Ciammetti said she doesn’t remember any administrators from Main Campus offering her support after Christian died. She would have loved an announcement of Christian’s death to the Temple community, or for a representative from Main Campus to have attended his funeral.
“If someone was there at the funeral as a representative from the administration, that would mean something,” Ciammetti said. “It just would’ve been thoughtful.”
“I’m sorry if our response didn’t meet her expectations,” said Dean of Students Stephanie Ives. “She’s been through a terrible, terrible experience. No parent should ever have to lose their child, and I greatly appreciate all she has done to bring attention to the issue of dangerous drinking.”
Miller said after Christian died, she received an email from Ives offering her resources. Ives directed Miller to Tuttleman Counseling Services for support and emailed each of her professors individually to excuse her from class or assignments for as long as she needed.
“I was really happy that someone from the school reached out,” Miller said. “That really helped alleviate that extra stress, because I didn’t want to be the one emailing my professors. I didn’t want to write that in an email.”
Although Main Campus didn’t reach out to Ciammetti after Christian’s death, administrators have been supportive of her on-campus efforts. Director of Student Activities Chris Carey started working on Don’t Stall, Just Call in 2015, helping distribute its magnets around campus and printing its logo in the planners handed out by University Housing and Residential Life.
“She’s often the driver of ideas and the creator of what she would like to see happen and then I try to support her in whatever way possible to actually bring those ideas to fruition,” Carey said.
After Christian died, Ciammetti founded The CTC Wellness Foundation in his memory — CTC stands for Christian Thomas Ciammetti. The foundation has multiple components. Don’t Stall, Just Call educates college students about the signs of binge drinking through workshops and presentations. Ciammetti also organizes a memorial 5K run at Ambler Campus every year, and she’s working on introducing a $1,500 scholarship for a junior landscape architecture major at Temple.
Perhaps Ciammetti’s most somber outreach comes annually on Main Campus: a vigil held annually at the Bell Tower in collaboration with Student Affairs. It’s not just for Christian — she modeled the memorial after a similar monthly one at Texas A&M University, which commemorates every student, staff and faculty member who died.
Ciammetti attempts to contact the families of every student who passed at Temple and invite them to the ceremony.
“People did die, and we want to acknowledge the loss on the campus,” Ciammetti said. “We want to acknowledge that these people walked these streets, used these facilities. They were a member of this community, and we want to remember them in a good, positive way.”
While working late on a Friday night in November 2016, Bernie Newman’s phone rang. Seeing it was Michelle Lai, the assistant dean of finance and administration in the College of Public Health, she picked up and quipped, “I’m working late, what the heck are you doing working this late?”
“I don’t have good news,” Lai responded.
Senior social work major Erin Wilson was struck and killed by a car while leaving her internship at Temple University Hospital’s Episcopal Campus, she told Newman, who was then the interim chair of the School of Social Work.
The first thing Newman did when she got home that night was embrace her 23-year-old son Eric. Erin was the same age when she died.
“It was very disconcerting to have one of our young undergraduate students, who was just finishing her senior year, to be taken like that in a car accident,” Newman said.
“I always think of her,” she added. “She just had a vibrant personality and was like [a] quintessential social [worker], kind, very giving, very compassionate.”
Erin transferred to Temple from Atlantic Cape Community College in 2014. She joined Temple’s chapter of the national social work honor society Alpha Delta Mu and — unhappy with the organization’s operations — became president. She “completely changed” the organization by making meetings and service hours mandatory, said Sarah Kim, the communications chair of Alpha Delta Mu and a senior social work major.
“She would be humble to the point of being dishonest,” Kim said. “She would be like, ‘I don’t do anything,’ and that’s just a lie. She did so much. … She could make people kinder just by talking to them.”
Erin was honored with a posthumous degree in May 2017, even though they are typically only awarded to students who die during their final semester. Newman and other social work faculty members petitioned the Board of Trustees to approve the degree by writing letters about Erin’s character and excellence as a student.
Liz Daley, Erin’s mom, accepted the degree at graduation.
Daley said it was “horrible” sitting in the Liacouras Center during the ceremony, thinking about how hard Erin had worked for the degree she was about to accept, but she felt like she had to do it for her only daughter.
Daley said Dean of Students Stephanie Ives called her the day after Erin died to offer support and provide information about Erin’s Sallie Mae loans, which were ultimately absolved.
In retrospect, Daley said she would’ve liked Temple to host an on-campus vigil for Erin since she was so entrenched in the university community, but no amount of administrative support could’ve dulled the pain caused by her death.
“They were very warm and supportive but, my God, my daughter’s dead,” Daley said.
Erin’s giving spirit is still “strong,” Daley added. As an organ donor, Erin’s corneas helped two people gain sight. Members of Alpha Delta Mu completed a blanket drive for patients in the psychiatric unit at Temple Episcopal, where Erin worked. Erin started organizing the drive before she died.
Alpha Delta Mu was hosting a Free Food and Fun Friday in the Student Center when they learned about Erin’s death, Kim said. They found an empty room upstairs, where they sat together to grieve and talk about Erin for several hours.
Newman said the School of Social Work’s faculty was mainly concerned with students’ well-being after Erin’s death, but she was proud of the way students and faculty came together to support each other.
The Monday after Erin died, several social work professors sat in a lounge on the fifth floor of Ritter Annex — where the School of Social Work is stationed — so students could discuss Erin and their grief.
Kim, who worked in the Office of Student Conduct and Community Standards, said Senior Associate Dean of Students Rachael Stark reached out with condolences and referred her to Tuttleman after she told her boss about Erin’s death.
She is not aware of any other Alpha Delta Mu members or social work students who received university outreach.
Kim said resources like Tuttleman weren’t necessary for her because of the school’s built-in support system.
“My hope for all of this…is that people can look to the School of Social Work almost as a model,” Kim said. “I was comfortable asking people for help when I needed it because I do that on behalf of clients all the time, but I don’t think that other majors and other university schools are equipped to do that.”
On Oct. 23, 2016, Hal Levitt lit a candle and placed it on the stovetop in the kitchen of his Baltimore, Maryland home. Earlier that day, his son Daniel, a sophomore pre-pharmacy major, died of an overdose in his off-campus apartment on Diamond Street near 10th.
The grieving father has kept a candle burning every day since — a lasting vigil for his son.
Photos of Daniel, past school IDs and tests also hang on the kitchen’s walls. Daniel’s room remains untouched — milk crates full of his textbooks sit on the floor and Temple T-shirts hang in front of his bed “waiting for him,” Levitt said. He keeps two of Daniel’s notebooks near his pillow and kisses them each night before saying a prayer for his son and going to sleep.
“I think that when you lose a child, it’s not something that compares to your grandmother, grandfather passing, even if they’re fairly dear to you,” Levitt said. “That doesn’t compare to what happens when you lose a daughter or son.”
“You feel [like] your loved one…is disappeared or vaporized,” he added. “People, as they need to, quickly move on with their lives, their tests, their exams and whatever else they have to do to live. We’re frozen in time.”
Temple officials reached out to Levitt and his wife, Denise, after their son passed to offer condolences. They received emails from Dean of Students Stephanie Ives, the College of Science and Technology’s Assistant Dean for Undergraduate Studies Evelyn Vleck and Ruth Ost, the senior director of the Honors Program, in which Daniel was a student.
The Honors Program sent a statement about Daniel’s death to all honors students. Ost also reached out to students who were Daniel’s close friends to organize a memorial held in Anderson Hall in November 2016.
“Who counts are the people who most loved the person and who are most grieving,” Ost said. “I had a way to help and so if you have a way to do that, you must.”
Ost said she helped with the logistics of setting up the memorial. She completed tasks like reserving a space in Anderson Hall, but students were responsible for making the event “deeply touching.” Junior sport, tourism, and hospitality management major Kaitlyn Nevin, who met Daniel her freshman year, took the lead on organizing the memorial.
At the memorial, Nevin and other friends of Daniel’s read letters they wrote to their friend about shared memories, and Nahla Ward, a 2017 senior criminal justice and Spanish alumna and Daniel’s Owl Team Leader during his freshman orientation, sang “Amazing Grace.” It was catered by Auntie Anne’s, one of Daniel’s favorite places to eat.
Ost sent a video of the memorial to the Levitts, who could not attend.
Nevin remembers taking spontaneous trips into the city with Daniel, like the time he took her to get her first Philly cheesesteak at Jim’s Steaks on South Street.
“He was very curious, he was very outgoing,” Nevin said. “He loved to be out meeting people. I think everyone that met him always kind of just loved him immediately.”
After Daniel’s death, Nevin said she and a group of his close friends received an email from the Dean of Students office offering condolences and reminding them about resources like Tuttleman Counseling Services. The outreach was sufficient for her, and “Temple did a good job in reaching out to us and making sure [we knew] they’re here, because at the same time…they didn’t bug us about it,” she added.
But junior advertising major Julia Ostrovsky, who had known Daniel since their senior year in high school and spoke at the memorial, said the only university outreach she received was an email from Ost asking her to be a part of the on-campus memorial and referring her to Tuttleman. Days after his death, Ostrovsky had to personally email professors and ask for an excused absence so she could attend Daniel’s service in Maryland.
“I just don’t really understand the university’s process for how they…publicize and have memorials for some students, or email [statements] for some,” Ostrovsky said. “I know a lot of the incidents that happened this year were very public and extremely tragic, but I don’t know what the hierarchy is for that.”
In some ways, the Temple community was Agatha Hall’s closest family.
Agatha, a finance major, came to Temple from a refugee camp in Ghana. Many of her relatives lived an ocean away from her off-campus apartment on Park Avenue near York Street. Her mother died in 2015, and her sister was her only immediate family member in the United States.
“Her family was scattered all over, so the school community was her family,” said Kiana Pittman, a 2014 psychology alumna and Agatha’s former roommate.
Agatha regularly hosted her friends for the holidays — Thanksgiving and Christmas meant Agatha was in the kitchen, cooking her favorite foods like potato greens and rice. She was eager to share.
“She was always cooking, making sure everybody was fed and having a good time,” Pittman said. “She was very giving, very open, very nurturing. It’s cliché, but she would literally give you the shirt off her back.”
In August 2015, when she was 21 years old, Agatha was murdered in her apartment by her boyfriend. For grieving friends and family, what followed was a lengthy trial — about 13 months passed from the day Agatha was killed to the day her murderer was convicted — that proved emotionally challenging for friends and family.
“It was really hard to move on, because we had to go to trial, which kind of brought it up to relive it over and over,” Pittman said. “Once the trial was over…it was kind of a bittersweet moment, to say the least. You were happy that they found him guilty, that they found out the truth of what happened, but you were sad that the truth was what it was.”
“I’m not even quite sure I completely grieved it,” she added.
After Agatha died, Pittman didn’t receive any outreach from the university offering support or resources — but she didn’t expect to. Pittman was no longer a student at Temple, having graduated a year before Agatha died.
Pittman said she wasn’t sure whether any of Agatha’s family or friends received outreach. Agatha’s family could not be reached for comment.
In retrospect, Pittman wishes she received university support. She would’ve appreciated some recognition of Agatha’s life, like an email sending condolences or an on-campus vigil to remember her. Pittman added that if the university offered, she might have sought support from Tuttleman Counseling Services.
“Some people aren’t aware of the counseling services that are offered, or don’t know where to find them, or don’t feel comfortable,” Pittman said. “When you go through something that traumatic, you don’t immediately identify it as a traumatic experience. You’re upset about it and you’re hurt about it, but you don’t realize the ways it could affect you.”
“You never want the memory of someone you loved and cared about to fade away,” she added. “Sometimes, just a simple acknowledgment makes a lot of difference.”