February 27, 2011

Police Continue Investigation Into Death of George Desdunes ’13

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George Desdunes ’13 died Friday morning after he was found unresponsive in the Sigma Alpha Epsilon fraternity house. Alcohol consumption may have played a role in the death, Tompkins County Sheriff Ken Lansing told the Associated Press on Sunday.

The investigation is continuing, but the death appears to have been accidental, Lansing said. The Cornell University Police Department said suicide was not suspected, but declined to provide further details on Sunday.

Desdunes was found unresponsive in the SAE house at 7 a.m. Friday. He was transported to Cayuga Medical Center, where he later died, according to the Ithaca Police Department.

A police statement with more information was expected to be released Monday morning. Police will receive the full results of a forensic autopsy conducted on Saturday by the end of the week, according to the New York State Police.

Police obtained a search warrant on Friday for the common areas of the SAE house and Desdunes’ bedroom, according to a person who observed the police response.

“I understand there will be speculation about the causes of this terrible tragedy,” President David Skorton said in a statement to the Cornell community. “Once [the investigation] is complete and we have all the available facts, we will inform the community and share decisions regarding the appropriate course of action.”

Desdunes, originally from Brooklyn, New York, was majoring in Biology and Society in the College of Human Ecology. He was a brother in SAE.

Desdunes’ friends and fraternity brothers remembered him as a remarkably friendly person who was involved throughout the Cornell community.

“He could cheer you up no matter what,” Eric Barnum ’12, president of SAE, said.

“You couldn’t walk by him without smiling,” said Avery Hairston ’14, who is pledging SAE this semester.

Eva Drago ’12, who was friends with Desdunes, said she remembered walking toward the SAE house in the spring and passing Desdunes, who was leaving the house to attend an Ash Wednesday service.

“He had such strong values. He was a very spiritual person,” Drago said. “He was the same person if you saw him in church as he was if you saw him on a Saturday night at a frat party.”

Several of Desdunes’ brothers in SAE declined to comment on Sunday.

After Desdunes’ death, students who knew him gathered for support.

“We’re focusing on sticking together as a brotherhood to remember George and give our thoughts and support to his family,” Barnum said.

A meeting was held between SAE brothers and several University administrators and counselors in Willard Straight Hall on Friday to help the students work through their emotions, a person who attended the meeting said.

“The brothers of SAE would like to thank all those who have offered their support and sympathy over the last few days,” several SAE members said in a statement on Sunday.

Skorton encouraged the community to show concern for one another.

“I ask you to please join me in keeping George’s mother, family and friends foremost in your thoughts in the days ahead,” he said in his statement. “May we all pause a moment from our daily pressures to give thanks for George and the vitality he brought to our community.”

In SAE’s statement, the brothers said their “thoughts and prayers go out to [Desdunes’] family and all those who were able to enjoy his contagious smile and boundless optimism.”

The brothers said they plan on traveling to Brooklyn to attend Desdunes’ wake on Thursday and funeral Friday. A memorial service in Ithaca will be held Wednesday, according to the SAE statement.

The Ithaca Police Department statement asked anyone with information about Desdunes’ death to call the department at 607-272-9973.

Jeff Stein and Juan Forrer contributed reporting to this article.

Original Author: Michael Linhorst