on November 1, 2007 by in Uncategorized, Comments (0)

Laughter amid tears at Clemson

CLEMSON — “Half of me is dead.”

Meredith Yelton, 19, said those grim words Wednesday at a Clemson Univeristy memorial service for her twin sister, Emily Yelton, who died Sunday in a house fire at Ocean Isle Beach, N.C.

The mood at Clemson’s amphitheatre was understandably somber. But Yelton’s tears were interspersed with laughter as she recalled Emily’s fear of the dark. Yelton was joined on stage by eight classmates. The friends clasped hands as they took turns sharing bittersweet memories.

“I have no doubts you all are in heaven. We’re all waiting to get up there and party with y’all,” Meredith Yelton said, referring not only to her sister, but also to Travis Cale and Justin Anderson, University of South Carolina students who also died in the Ocean Isle Beach blaze. Meredith Yelton called Cale, who was Emily’s boyfriend, her “best friend.”

Clemson President James Barker also spoke of Emily Yelton, a sophomore who had recently switched her major to early education.

“Our loss is profound,” Barker said. “Our brains may understand it, but it’s our hearts that are broken. We’ve gathered to laugh, cry and mourn. That’s what families do. We must move forward together as a family.”

About 2,000 students, faculty and community members attended the on-campus memorial. The Ocean Isle Beach blaze attracted national and international media attention. Seven students died in the fire, which occurred in the morning following a late night of partying. Six of the dead were USC students.

Clemson officials have taken a swift and proactive approach in dealing with the tragedy. As soon as Clemson received notice an unidentified CU student was among the victims of the Ocean Isle Beach blaze, they immediately went into action. Students who would be most likely impacted by the tragedy were included in a crisis debriefing. The debriefing also outlined “normal” grieving responses, as well as indicators to the contrary.

“To feel very sad is a natural part of a grieving process when losing a friend or relative,” said Dean of Students Joy Smith. “But if you stay sad and depressed all the time and can’t come out of it at all, it’s time to reach out for help.”

The students were then referred to counseling, although they were not required to attend any sessions.

Clemson began an expanded counseling service immediately after the vigil. Professionals will be on hand at Vickery Hall to meet with students from 8 to 10 p.m. on Thursday, Sunday, Monday and Tuesday.

A spokeswoman at the North Carolina medical examiner’s office said it could be four to six weeks before lab results are available to determine causes of death for all of the victims. Ocean Isle Beach Mayor Debbie Smith told the Associated Press town officials were told only that the students died by fire.

However, Emily Yelton’s father, Jeff Yelton, said Tuesday he had been contacted by North Carolina authorities and told his daughter died from carbon monoxide poisoning and likely never woke up as fire tore through the house where the friends had been partying late into the night.

There will be a memorial service for Emily Yelton on Friday at 2 p.m. at Brookwood Church in Simpsonville. The Yeltons are asking any memorials be made to Greenville’s Young Life program.

The Yelton sisters were members of Delta Zeta sorority at Clemson.

Jessica Mueeler, president of the Clemson chapter of Delta Zeta, issued a statement through the sorority’s national office.

“Emily was someone who lived in the moment. She enjoyed life and was always helping others and lifting our spirits with her amazing sense of humor. Losing Emily has been very hard on the chapter but our main concern lies with Meredith and the Yelton Family.”

Yelton is the third Clemson student to die this semester. All three were under the age of 20 at the time of their deaths.

On Aug. 28, CU student Amy Moxie, 18, succumbed to a rare aortic rupture. Sophomore Taylor Cox, 19, died Oct. 11 after collapsing before a flag football game on campus. According to Pickens County Deputy Coroner Kandy Kelley, Cox’s death was also believed to be cardiac-related.

“It’s always extremely sad to loose a student,” Smith said. “These three people weren’t doing anything wrong — in any way. So often with college students, that’s not the case because they are big risk takers.

Wednesday’s vigil is the first in what will likely be a series of student-led attempts at dealing with the deaths of Yelton, Moxie and Cox.