A university in Connecticut is mourning the death of a 20-year-old student who died Sunday after apparently choking in a pancake-eating contest.
A nursing student tried to save Caitlin Nelson, a junior who was a member of the Kappa Delta sorority at Sacred Heart University in Connecticut, when she showed signs of medical distress after eating several pancakes at the Greek Life event Thursday evening, according to Lt. Robert Kalamaras of the Fairfield Police. Officers responded within a minute of the 911 call, and Nelson was hospitalized and was in critical but stable condition that evening.
Her father, James Nelson, was a Port Authority of New York and New Jersey police officer who was killed while trying to rescue people trapped in the World Trade Center after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks, Kalamaras said.
Her death brought an outpouring of grief from the campus community, where thousands of people attended a Mass and held an impromptu candlelight vigil outside the chapel afterward, praying and consoling one another, according to a university spokeswoman.
According to a LinkedIn profile, Nelson was studying social work at Sacred Heart and volunteered at the Resiliency Center in Newtown, Conn., a nonprofit helping people affected by the mass shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School.
The chapel remained open throughout the evening with staff on hand from the campus ministry, Sacred Heart spokeswoman Deb Noack said. Counseling services will continue to be available.
The school flag was lowered to half-staff in her memory.
Her death was mourned on social media by friends, and by strangers who were touched by the story.
“It was a tragic event,” Kalamaras said. “Our condolences go out to the family, who lost their loved one,” and to “the Sacred Heart community, because a lot of them lost a good friend.”