update: The medical examiner has determined a cause of death. Click here to read the story.
FAIRFIELD, Conn. — Sacred Heart University in Fairfield is mourning the passing Sunday of a 20-year-old junior from Clark, N.J., who died days after taking part in a pancake-eating contest on campus.
Caitlin Nelson, who was studying social work and was a member of Kappa Delta sorority, was rushed to St. Vincent's Medical Center on Thursday evening after a "medical event during a Greek Life event," SHU said in a statement.
"She passed away ... and is now with her father, who was a victim of the 9-11 attacks," SHU President John J. Petillo said in an email to parents Sunday.
Sunday night's Mass at SHU’s Chapel of the Holy Spirit was dedicated to Nelson and attended by thousands of students, faculty and staff—many of whom stood outside the Chapel during the service, SHU said in a statement.
The service was followed by an impromptu candlelight vigil as community members consoled one another and offered prayers for her and her family and friends.
The SHU flag has been lowered to half-staff in her memory.
Nelson was taking part in a pancake-eating contest Thursday night at the college when she apparently choked, police said.
She had eaten four or five pancakes in the contest, held at a Greek Life dinner on the University Commons, when she began to shake and collapsed, according to police.
She spit out pancake but was still choking, witnesses told police. A nursing student began CPR, while others attempted to use the Heimlich maneuver and began pulling food from her throat, police said.
Nelson also had food allergies, police said.
She taken to St. Vincent's Medical Center and later transferred to Columbia University Medical Center, where she died Sunday, police said.
She was 5 when her father, James Nelson, 40, died in the Sept. 11, 2001, terror attack on the World Trade Center. A Port Authority police officer, he was evacuating people from the 27th-floor of the Twin Towers when it collapsed.
He had also rescued people after 1993 bombing of the World Trade Center bombing, braving the black smoke despite his asthma.
Caitlin Nelson was a volunteer with the Resiliency Center of Newtown and vice president of Kappa Delta. She had a certification in Youth Mental Health First Aid, according to her LinkIn profile.
Caitlin Nelson and her sister, Anne, worked at Resiliency Center with survivors of the Sandy Hook School shooting as they struggled through their losses, according to TapInto.net.
“It’s about positive change. It’s about healing and helping. It’s about paying it forward," Caitlin Nelson told TapInto.net last year.
She was also involved America’s Camp, an annual retreat designed to help the 9/11 children cope with their losses, TapInto.net said.
"The entire Sacred Heart community is sending their sympathy and prayers to Caitlin’s family and friends," Petillo said in his email.
"No parent should ever have to receive news like this. I ask for your prayers for Caitlin’s mother, family and friends."
Counseling services have been provided, in particular for her sorority sisters. The Chapel will remain open with staff from campus ministry on hand, he said.
The SHU Facebook page — which posted a photo and a "We.Are.SHU" message — was filled with words of love and support for the student and her family.
"Heartfelt sympathy to Caitlin's family & our SHU family. May her memory be eternal," said one Facebook post.
"May God Bless all those who are touched by this sad and tragic loss especially Caitlin's family and her sorority sisters. God Bless Sacred Heart University," said another post on Facebook.
"So sad and sorry for the loss of this beautiful angel...May she RIP with her dad and all the angels...Give her family comfort and support....Prayers and Love," another post said.
Click here to read the TapInto.net story.
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