New Zealand student found dead in dorm room weeks after death

Michael Mallard, Editor

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A complaint of an odor in a college dormitory led to a ghastly surprise for police in Christchurch, New Zealand. The unpleasant smell had been present for weeks in the Sonoda dormitory at the University of Canterbury, but it finally became so overwhelming that the police were notified on September 23. When investigating the origin of the odor, the officers discovered the badly decomposed body of an unidentified male student.

Forensic analysts were called in, who determined that the young man had died almost two months earlier, which has caused many to question how the body had gone unnoticed for that long. It seems unlikely that the students’ family, teachers, and classmates would not have gone looking for him at any point, but that is apparently exactly what happened. According to the deceased’s friends, he would sometimes “go off the grid” for weeks at a time, and then return eventually. Even so, it is still suspicious to some that not a single person would have heard from him during that time.

The situation is especially bizarre considering that the Sonoda hall prides itself on being a close-knit community of students who look out for each other. Faculty and resident assistants are also supposed to monitor the goings on in the complex, but some students have raised concerns that there is actually little supervision in Sonoda. Students are meant to have some degree of independence there, but not so much that a sudden death could go unnoticed. “We have no idea who is running this place, there is an overwhelming lack of presence from adult staff in this hall,” said an anonymous student, “If a student was in crisis the hall of residence would have no idea … we could disappear for weeks and it would go unnoticed by staff here”. 

Along with the official police investigation, the university is conducting its own investigation to determine exactly how these events transpired and how to address student safety in the future. “Despite the comprehensive pastoral care programmes in place, for us it is inconceivable to imagine how these circumstances could have occurred,” said University of Canterbury Vice Chancellor Cheryl de la Rey, “We understand that the matter is now with the coroner and we are respectful of the family’s wishes at this time not to comment further.” 

As of October 6, few details about the dead student’s identity or circumstances surrounding his death are available, other than that he was a male first-year student. The cause of death has still not been released, and it is not yet known whether foul play or substance abuse were involved.