Page last updated at 18:04 GMT, Wednesday, 17 March 2010

Cornell University on alert after suspected suicides

A Cornell University student walks across the Suspension Pedestrian bridge (16 March 2010)
A third-year student died after falling from a footbridge on Friday

Cornell University staff are monitoring bridges over river gorges on the campus and checking on students after three fell to their deaths in the past month.

The head of the US college also took out an ad in the campus paper urging students: "If you learn anything at Cornell, please learn to ask for help."

The first of the deaths has been ruled a suicide. The others, which happened last week, are being investigated.

Three other students at Cornell have killed themselves this academic year.

But university officials insist its suicide rate is in line with the national average for its student population of 20,000 - about two per year.

'Suicide school'

Cornell's Ithaca campus sits on a hilltop overlooking Cayuga Lake, the longest of the Finger Lakes of central New York State.

It's a kind of a bewilderment and a determination to make sure we've done everything we can to keep it from happening again
Claudia Wheatley
Cornell University spokeswoman

Two sides of the campus are bound by gorges, more than 30m (100ft) deep in some places, which students must cross to enter the main town.

On Thursday, the body of a second-year engineering student was recovered from a gorge through which Fall Creek flows, 20m (70ft) below Thurston Avenue Bridge. The body of a first-year was found nearby on 17 February.

Then on Friday, a third-year engineer died after he fell from a footbridge a short distance downstream, officials said. Rescue workers have yet to recover the body.

The Ithaca Police Department is investigating both of last week's deaths, but the university is responding as if they were suicides.

Thurston Avenue Bridge, which crosses Fall Creek (16 March 2010)
The Thurston Avenue Bridge passes 20m above Falls Creek

In addition to several messages issued by the university president offering help this week, staff members have been sent to the six bridges on campus and have been knocking on the doors of every student living in university accommodation.

Cornell administrators have also been "very intensively reassessing" existing programmes to prevent suicides.

"It's a kind of a bewilderment and a determination to make sure we've done everything we can to keep it from happening again," university spokeswoman Claudia Wheatley told the Associated Press.

But despite the recent deaths, Cornell's director of mental health initiatives said it was unfairly perceived as a "suicide school".

"When a death occurs at Cornell in one of our gorges, it's a very public experience," Dr Timothy Marchell said.

Between 2000 and 2005, there were 10 confirmed suicides, and from 2006 to the beginning of this academic year, there were none.

The BBC is not responsible for the content of external internet sites

Sky News Top US Uni On Suicide Watch After Deaths - 3 hrs ago
Times Online Cornell forced to fight suicide school image - 19 hrs ago
Telegraph Japan's Kumano Kodo pilgrimage trail - 22 hrs ago

Has China's housing bubble burst?
How the world's oldest clove tree defied an empire
Why Royal Ballet principal Sergei Polunin quit


Americas Africa Europe Middle East South Asia Asia Pacific