Emergency personnel carry a ladder away from the scene on Willard Way after helping with the recovery of a body in Fall Creek Gorge on Friday afternoon.

Nicholas Bogel-Burroughs / Sun City Editor

Emergency personnel carry a ladder away from the scene on Willard Way after helping with the recovery of a body in Fall Creek Gorge on Friday afternoon.

May 27, 2018

Man Found Dead in Gorge Identified as Cornell Senior Set to Graduate This Weekend

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The man found dead in Fall Creek Gorge on Friday has been identified by police as Avram Benjamin Pinals ’18, a senior who was scheduled to graduate on Sunday and had planned to attend medical school at the University of Michigan.

The Ithaca Police Department said in a statement that the cause of death has not yet been determined and that no evidence of foul play has been found. The investigation is ongoing. Police did not release Pinals’s age but previously said that he appeared to be about 21.

Pinals, who went by Avi, was from Newton, Mass., and majored in biological sciences with a concentration in neurobiology and behavior. He minored in music, played jazz trumpet, enjoyed skiing and playing soccer, served as philanthropy chair of the Zeta Beta Tau fraternity and regularly volunteered at a local community kitchen. Under former president Elizabeth Garrett’s tenure, Pinals had signed a letter urging the Cornell Board of Trustees to divest from fossil fuels.

Avram Pinals '18

Avram Pinals ’18

Pinals was discovered after a pedestrian on a Stewart Avenue bridge reported seeing a body in the Fall Creek Gorge below. Pinals is the third Cornell student to die in the gorge in just over a year. Winston S. Perez-Ventura ’22, who was 17, drowned in a swimming hole in the gorge in August 2017, and Aalaap Narasipura ’18, who was 20, died in May 2017, a death in which police said no foul play was suspected.

Beth Howland, the director of advising for the Office of Undergraduate Biology, said in an email on Saturday night that she had heard from Pinals’s friends and mentors that he was smart, funny and altruistic.

“Avi’s profound impact on others was undeniable,” Howland said. “To say it is tragic for such a promising young life to be cut so short is an understatement.”

Prof. Steven F. Pond, who is the chair of the music department, said in an email that Pinals was active in CU Jazz and had previously been a member of CU Winds, including attending the ensemble’s service learning tour to Haiti and the Dominican Republic in the winter of 2017.

Avram Pinals '18, right, with a Carol Morgan School student during a master class taught by CU Winds members in Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic.

Provided Photo, via Cornell University

Avram Pinals ’18, right, with a Carol Morgan School student during a master class taught by CU Winds members in Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic.

Pond and other Cornell officials said Pinals was looking forward to attending the University of Michigan medical school, in part because he would be close to his family in Ann Arbor, Mich. Pond noted that Pinals, after the CU Winds trip, had reflected on the ethical dilemmas he faced in Haiti.

“Who was I to walk through that place with a wallet full of money, take a picture of the Citadel, and then leave without giving anything back?” he asked in the post, later adding: “Going to Haiti and experiencing this poverty, which exists in such abundance so close to the United States, has imparted a motivation in me to return to Haiti that I could never have gotten from a book or article.”

“He was poised to give great good to the world,” Pond said of Pinals.

Dean Gretchen Ritter ’83 of the College of Arts and Sciences said in an email that the University of Michigan medical school was “one of his top choices” and that he had previously interned at the University of Michigan’s biomedical laboratories. He had also joined the laboratory of Prof. Maren Vitousek, ecology and evolutionary biology, at Cornell in 2015 and studied stress hormones and their impacts in songbirds at the Cornell Lab of Ornithology, Ritter said.

Pinals’s faculty advisor, Prof. Robert Raguso, neurobiology and behavior, described Pinals as “a young man with great intellect, a generosity of spirit, and a genuine interest in other humans their welfare,” according to Ritter, who said Pinals’s death was a “tremendous loss within our community.”

Ryan Lombardi, vice president for student and campus life, said in a statement that Pinals was a “dedicated student” who had also worked as a research trainee at Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston. Lombardi and other officials encouraged students to reach out to seek support from mentors and friends.

“On behalf of the entire Cornell community, I extend our deepest condolences to Avi’s family and friends as they grieve his passing,” Lombardi said. “May we all find strength in our community in the coming days.”

Students may consult with counselors from Counseling & Psychological Services (CAPS) by calling 607-255-5155. Employees may call the Faculty Staff Assistance Program (FSAP) at 607-255-2673. An Ithaca-based Crisisline is available at 607-272-1616. For additional resources, visit caringcommunity.cornell.edu.