December 9, 2015

Freshman Found Dead in Dorm at La Sierra University

Updated at 9:15 p.m. ET

, news editor, Adventist Review, and , student, La Sierra University

A first-year student at La Sierra University was found dead in his dormitory on Tuesday, stunning the close-knit campus in Riverside, California.

Students and faculty expressed regrets at an evening prayer service that they had missed opportunities to praise and cherish the student, Nicholas Culver, whom they described as a godly man and a outstanding player on the university’s Eagles basketball team.

A photo of Nicholas Culver in a La Sierra student directory. (Courtesy of LSU)

“The La Sierra University community is deeply saddened by the tragic loss of Nicholas Culver, a freshman general studies student from Rancho Cucamonga, who was found deceased in Sierra Towers at approximately 9:30 a.m. today,” the Seventh-day Adventist Church-owned university said in a brief statement.

Rancho Cucamonga is located about 30 minutes by car northwest of Riverside in southern California.

The cause of the death was unclear. Culver’s age also was not immediately known.

“Paramedics were called and quickly arrived on the scene,” the university said. “The Riverside Police Department was called because the emergency personnel determined that the student could not be revived.”

The university said Culver’s family had been notified.

“Counseling staff, chaplains, and pastors are standing by to help support the campus family,” it said. “Let us keep Nicholas' family and loved ones in prayer during this time of profound grief.”

This is the third high-profile student death this year at an Adventist university  in the United States.

Kimberly Andreu, 21, a second-year freshman majoring in allied health, was found dead in her dormitory at Southern Adventist University in March. Andreu had suffered from a congenital heart condition.

In February, Walla Walla University sophomore Madison “Maddy” Baird, 20, died after being struck by a pickup truck while riding a bicycle.

At La Sierra University, students packed Hole Memorial Auditorium for an evening prayer gathering and memorial for Culver. University president Randal Wisbey paid tribute to Culver as “such a gift” and “a godly young man” as students wept. Open boxes of tissues were placed in every row of seats. Near the entrance, students lined up to write a memory or note to Culver’s father and on the slip of paper and place it in a glass jar.

“We will not forget Nicholas, we will remember the gift he has been with us,” Wisbey said.

“This is a time of great distress,” he said. “We have lost one if our students. Tonight we will remember to be grateful that God is in the midst of us. We will pray for family, friends, teachers. … We will pray because we care.”

After a prayer, students came forward to share their memories of Culver. His girlfriend, a freshman, said Culver was the first person whom she met at the start of the school year.

“I met him when I was broken, and he helped cure me. I’m broken now again,” she said. 

She recalled that just a day earlier she had told Culver: “I can’t lose you. You are my best friend.”

She said Culver had replied, “You will never lose me.”

The sobs from the audience grew louder as she spoke.

Another female student said she regretted not attending all of Culver’s basketball games.

The 5-foot, 11-inch Culver played the position of guard for the Eagles, according to the team’s website.

He enrolled in the university with a reputation as a strong player. As a high school senior, Culver was described as a “basketball standout” by a local sports newspaper. The PrepSports Bulletin reported in June 2014 that he had helped his Rancho Cucamonga Cougars team reach a second-place finish in local championships that year. The report also said Culver had considered four universities before deciding “to stick close to home” by going to La Sierra.

Other people also expressed regrets at the prayer service.

A coach spoke of Culver’s wide smile and bubbling joy, even early in the morning.

“It’s so important not to miss your chances,” he said. “I didn’t get to tell him how happy he made my day.”

A freshman cautioned fellow students never to hold a grudge.

“I never got to say sorry to him when we had a falling out,” he said. “I regret it.”

The meeting closed with university athletic director Javier Krumm reading Psalm 23, followed by a prayer. Attendees held hands for the prayer. Not a dry eye was in sight.

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