University of Virginia senior Casey Schulman spent the past 14 weeks on a once-in-a-lifetime adventure with the school’s Semester at Sea program. The 22-year-old Falls Church native visited London and Portugal, Africa and the Amazon. This week, finally, she was scheduled to return home.
On Saturday, during the ship’s final stop on the Caribbean island of Dominica, Schulman and other students took a break to go snorkeling. As she swam in the pristine tropical waters, a small boat backed into Schulman, killing her.
“It was her last day,” said Karen Hess, Schulman’s aunt, who spoke on behalf of the family Sunday night. “Dominica was the last stop. Supposedly, the captain of the boat got off to get food. When he came back, he backed right up over her.”
Schulman was a senior majoring in foreign affairs at U-Va., on track to graduate in the spring. She was visiting Dominica with a group of more than 50 students, all participants in the Semester at Sea program, which uses a ship as a traveling campus.
“She wanted to travel,” Hess said. “I know it sounds trite, but she wanted a job where she could travel and help people. And surf.”
A graduate of J.E.B. Stuart High School in Falls Church, Schulman was co-captain of her high school’s varsity cheerleading team. She graduated in 2009 with honors, according to her family. At U-Va., Schulman was a member of the Alpha Phi sorority and in November was inducted into the Order of Omega, a national society that honors leaders in the Greek system.
Schulman is survived by her parents, who live in Falls Church, and her younger sister, Alli, who is a sophomore at Miami University in Ohio.
“When I tell you that two sisters couldn’t be closer, they really couldn’t be closer,” Hess said.
Friends posting on Facebook — where Schulman had earlier published photos of her travels — described her as someone who brought happiness to everyone around her.
“A smile of joy and twinkling eyes that lit up the world. Hopefully the sun will shine a little brighter now that heaven gained a new angel,” wrote one of her sorority sisters. “I am so lucky to have seen that smile and felt that joy, and I am proud to call you my sister and friend. Rest in peace, Casey. We’ll forever look out for your sunshine.”
Her family, likewise, described Schulman as inspiring and selfless.
“Casey cared about the world beyond herself,” Hess said. “She was straightforward. She looked you in the eye, but always with optimism. She never complained. She was an inspiration on how to live life. She was a shining light.”
According to a news agency in Dominica, police said that Schulman and other students arranged to take a snorkeling trip by boat after arriving on the island Saturday morning. About 2:30 p.m., the boat captain made a stop, allowing students to either stay on board or to leave the boat to swim in the ocean or spend time on the beach.
Schulman was one of the students who was in the water as the boat backed up, the propeller hitting her, police told Dominica News. She was taken to a local hospital, where she was pronounced dead. An investigation is ongoing, police said.
According to Patricia Lampkin, U-Va.’s vice president and chief student affairs officer, the recreational boating trip that led to Schulman’s death was organized independently of the Semester at Sea activities.
In a separate statement, Semester at Sea President Les McCabe said: “We wish to convey our condolences to Casey’s family, her many friends, and those who witnessed the accident.”
A commemorative service in Schulman’s honor was planned aboard the ship Sunday evening. The ship was expected to travel next to Florida, where its final stop is scheduled for Friday.
Meanwhile, at Schulman’s childhood home in Falls Church, family and friends gathered Sunday. They shared stories about Schulman that brought them to laughter and tears. Some of Schulman’s friends came up with a plan to create bracelets in her honor that would say, “What Would Casey Do?”
“Rest In Peace, sweetheart. You were so sweet-spirited! Glad I had the opportunity to meet you,” a friend commented on one of her Facebook photos Sunday. “Your loved ones and close friends are in my prayers.”