Gannon University students, staff and faculty continue to grieve the loss of Abbie Marie Brynda, 21-year-old nursing student, who died of a cardiac arrest Saturday night.
Brynda, of Zelienople, Pa., was found unresponsive Saturday afternoon in an alley between buildings at 144 W. 12th St. and 152 W. 12th St. She was then taken to UPMC Hamot, where she was pronounced dead shortly after 9 p.m.
Erie County Coroner Lyell Cook said the autopsy his office conducted Sunday showed no signs of foul play and indicated that Brynda’s death was a result of hypothermia. The formal ruling on the cause of death, he said, is pending the results of the toxicology report, which may take a month or longer to be processed.
Lt. Stan Green of the Erie Police Department said the police continue their investigation to figure out some of the missing links of the incident, interviewing people who last saw Brynda, but reaching nothing conclusive yet.
“Right now it just looks like a sad tragedy,” Green said. He added that Brynda was last seen leaving a party in the same area early Saturday morning.
Students gathered Sunday morning to attend 11 a.m. Mass at Mary, Seat of Wisdom Chapel, where they mourned their friend’s loss and found comfort in each other. Many students wore purple, to indicate their solidarity with the Tri Sigma sorority, to which Brynda belonged.
Her death profoundly affected all those around her, who now try to celebrate the life she’s lived. Abigail Taylor, one of Brynda’s best friends and a sister in the same sorority, said Brynda was a “breath of fresh air… among the hustle and bustle of this crazy life. Always taking time to breathe and enjoy the sound of laughter.”
Taylor said Brynda had her own unique presence on campus, chatting with those she knew and boosting up the confidence of those around her. She said Brynda was charismatic, sociable and outgoing. She said Brynda always insisted on seizing the day where both would end going to the beach or sharing ice cream.
“She would plop down next to you with her big purple coat and a beanie and she would ask you how you were doing,” Taylor said. “And, she would really listen and care about the answer.
“How rare was that compassion in a world that can sometimes feel so self-absorbed.”
In addition to having a strong presence in Gannon’s Greek life, Brynda was also involved with non-Greek organizations and people on campus.
“She fits perfectly in the hearts of our Sigma sisters but she also fits in the hearts of so many other students on campus,” Taylor said. “She was always an advocate for Greek unity as well as unity campus wide and she would be so proud of the way we are working together and leaning on each other. We are strongest when we stick together.”
President Keith Taylor, Ph.D., said the Gannon community is coming together in this time of great sadness. He said staff and sorority advisers came to Gannon Saturday to help students pull together. Counseling services were also provided Saturday night and will continue for the next several weeks.
“She is, as all of our students are, a tremendous piece of our Gannon community,” he said. “She is a shining star and will be missed.”
Jane Dorler, Tri Sigma sorority advisor, said the sorority sisters will need time to cope, but they will eventually be able to get through it with the support of their friends on campus.
“They’re heartbroken, you know, and they have a lot of questions.” She said. “This is one of these times where it doesn’t matter what Greek letter you’re wearing – Gannon is a really tightknit community and there were students from all different organizations supporting them right now.”
The chapter issued a statement thanking the community for the support it has offered.
“We will always remember her as a generous, caring member of Tri Sigma as Abbie was active in our efforts to promote service on campus and within the community,” Alexis Tamok, president of the Tri Sigma sorority at Gannon, said.
Abigail Taylor said Brynda was committed to the sisterhood aspect of their sorority.
“She wanted nothing more than for us to be a real family full of sisters who would share everything and fight over nothing,” she said. “She had her own wonderful sisters and we are so glad she brought the meaning of true sisterhood to our chapter because we need it now more than ever.
“We are in debt to her because we are truly blessed to have that kind of support system.”
The sorority has started a fundraiser dedicated to celebrate Brynda’s life and memorialize her. Those who would like to donate to the cause could do so by visiting http://www.youcaring.com/memorial-fundraiser/in-abbie-s-memory/134050.