As student journalists, we at The Rider News were forced into a “delicate balancing act” during the unforgettable days surrounding the tragic death of Gary DeVercelly. We, as students who have emotions and are hurt by any tragedy that hits our small community, had the duty to inform the student body of the events while also maintaining objectivity.
It was around 8:30 on that fateful Thursday morning, March 29 — a day that will always be etched into our memory banks — when Dean Tony Campbell informed me of the terrible news that a student was in critical condition after drinking at a fraternity house. As a former writer of the famous Security Briefs section, students falling ill because of heavy drinking is not a new story to me. But the concerned look on the Dean’s face prompted me to believe that this was something serious — something that national media outlets may pounce on.
While walking to the news office, my mind was racing. It was still quite early in the morning, for college student standards, and I know that my staff members at the News were waking up and getting ready for what was supposed to be an easy day, thinking it was still the April Fools’ spoof issue.
On one hand, I knew the celebrated fake issue was already in place and ready to be published that night. On the other hand, I knew that we had a duty as a student newspaper to inform the University about what was about to transpire on the Lawrenceville campus that day.
As I walked across the campus green onto the bridge that overlooks Centennial Lake, which actually looked majestic on this beautiful, yet eerie spring day, I saw police lining caution tape around the perimeter of Phi Kappa Tau. Immediately, I knew the answer to my dilemma: Pull the April Fools’ issue and put together a regular news issue.
I thought that the most difficult part of this decision would be to break the news to my staff that we would have to work extra hard to pull together a full issue in time for the Thursday night deadline. Fortunately, my staff responded with open eyes and ears, asking me things like “What can I do to help?”
While the regular paper made the racks on Friday, Gary died and sadly the entire University community fell into a state of mourning, while being subjected to numerous news cameras and reporters.
During the Saturday memorial service, I, along with three other members of the News, attended solely as students who were there to support our neighbors. As a stranger to Gary who had never had any direct contact with the dynamic young man, I couldn’t help but be moved to tears when his mother and father spoke with such strength and passion about their late son.
Mr. DeVercelly’s main request, as he told a somber audience that filled Gill Chapel, is to remember his son “for his life, not the way it ended.” Although national media attached an unavoidable stigma to Gary because of the circumstances, I felt it was our duty as students with the power of voice to at least partly fulfill Gary’s father’s wish.
As originally planned, we were scheduled to publish a special Tuesday issue on April 3. The issue was designed to serve as an election preview for the Lawrenceville SGA elections because the previous regular issue was scheduled to be the April Fools’ edition. Since we were already set for production, I decided we could use it as an avenue to provide students with a detailed section on Gary DeVercelly’s life, the situation that led to his death and articles on topics surrounding the incident.
As our University does its best to make good come out of this devastating loss, I want students to know that we will always be here to carry out our duty as the “student newspaper of the Rider community.”
— Mike Caputo