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Death again haunts Boston University community

Fire victim is 11th student lost in 13 months

BU’s president, Robert A. Brown (above), is struggling with the recent tragedies at the school.

JESSICA RINALDI FOR THE BOSTON GLOBE

BU’s president, Robert A. Brown (above), is struggling with the recent tragedies at the school.

First, another tragic headline. Then the latest letter about grieving from president Robert A. Brown. Another vigil, another funeral.

It is a cycle that has become painfully familiar at Boston University, where 11 students, including undergraduates and graduate students, have died in the past 13 months in accidents or violence. The array of tragedies covers so many ways a young life could end suddenly: a senseless shooting, traffic accidents, a death after a fraternity party.

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Just this month, Lu Lingzi, a graduate student studying statistics, was killed in the Marathon bombing. And Sunday morning, marine science major Binland Lee perished in a fire in her Allston apartment.

At a university of 33,000 students, most did not know any of the victims personally. But still, on campus Monday, during a lovely warm spring day, many felt somber and reflective.

“These are kids you could’ve walked by in the street and you could even have had class with,” said Michael Ludovico, a sophomore. “It’s just been tragedy after tragedy here. Everybody seems to be asking the same question. Why BU? Why us?”

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Brown said he was struggling with the same feelings.

“There’s a sadness,” Brown said Monday. “Because you see people come here with so much aspiration. To have what look like sets of random tragedies, you’d like to analyze each one and figure out why it happened. . . . It’s just so senseless.”

Fire victim Binland Lee.

Beth Fertig/WNYC

Sunday morning, marine science major Binland Lee perished in a fire in her Allston apartment.

BU officials see no pattern in the deaths, and say parents and students have not expressed concern that anything is amiss on campus. Brown seemed sanguine about the Wednesday deadline for prospective students to decide whether to accept BU’s offer of admission for next fall.

Still, Brown and the dean of students, Kenneth Elmore, said they continue to look for ways to reduce the dangers students face.

Trustees discussed just weeks ago whether the university should continue building more student housing, Brown said, but with over 80 percent of undergraduates already living on campus, he believes the school now houses all the students who are willing to live on campus. As students get older and especially if they are returning from study abroad, he said, some simply prefer to live off-campus.

“What really worries me is that the landlords in a lot of these apartment buildings aren’t meeting the standards, both for code and egress, and finally that they’re turning a blind eye to residences that are overpacked,” he said. “But we go round and round about this; it’s a very hard thing to get your hands around from our perspective.”

BU works with local hardware stores to make sure they carry smoke detectors and carbon monoxide detectors, Elmore said. They reminded students Monday about online fire safety resources.

Last year, BU began requiring that all student organizations send officers to “bystander training,” which advises on how to protect friends from sexual assault or dangerous drinking. This fall, the program will expand to include more students.

Brown and other officials said a key to reassuring worried parents and students has been the BU website, where bad news is posted just as quickly as good news, and staff members then monitor the comments and answer questions as they pop up.

A year ago, BU was mourning Kanagala Seshadri Rao, a School of Management graduate student fatally shot near his Allston apartment. According to his family, he had been heading to a friend’s house to help her with schoolwork in the early hours of the morning. Boston police are still investigating his death.

Also last April, a doctoral student in pharmacology died of an apparent suicide after ingesting a toxic chemical. Because of concerns about the chemical, her apartment building was briefly evacuated.

Then, last May, three BU students studying abroad, Austin Brashears, Daniela Lekhno, and Roch Jauberty, were killed in a van crash in New Zealand.

A doctoral candidate, Chad DiGregorio, died in Turkey last summer in an apparent fall near the site of the archeological project where he was working.

Two students died during the fall semester while bicycling near campus. First, Chung-Wei “Victor” Yang, an international relations major, was killed in November when his bicycle made contact with an MBTA bus. Less than a month later, photojournalism graduate student Christopher Weigl was killed in a collision with a tractor-trailer turning off Commonwealth Avenue.

Then, in March, freshman Anthony Barksdale II died hours after he was found unconscious at an off-campus fraternity party. It was only one of several serious incidents involving BU fraternities in the past couple of years, including an alleged hazing that led to criminal charges.

The collective experience of tragedy in the Marathon bombing was still raw Monday. Two graduate students who went to high school with Lu in China left fresh flowers for her in front of Marsh Chapel.

One of the young women said that immediately after the tragedy, she had yearned to return home. But she said she is feeling better now and finishing her final projects for the semester this week. The graphic design student, who did not want to be named out of respect for Lu’s other friends and family, praised her professors and classmates for being understanding.

“In Boston, people care about other people,” she said. “People are really nice here.”

Caitlin White, 22, a graduate student of theology who also works in the ministry department, spoke of the many opportunities the school has offered for students to grieve together. She described messages of support from other universities, such as a giant box of written prayers sent by Emory University.

Still, White said, people are emotionally exhausted.

“Whenever we see an e-mail from President Brown, another, ‘We can’t release the name yet, this is what happened, please use these resources’ kind of thing, there’s kind of a collective sigh,” she said. “Social media will explode with, ‘It wasn’t me. I’m safe.’ At this point people are really tired of having to tell their friends and family, ‘It’s not me this time. I’m still OK.’ ”

Globe correspondent Katherine Landergan contributed to this report. Marcella Bombardieri can be reached at bombardieri@globe.com. Follow her on twitter @GlobeMarcella.
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