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Johnny, they hardly knew you: Wabash death update

SHERYL KORNMAN and RYN GARGULINSKI
Tucson Citizen
“He was my child. He was my son,” said a husky-voiced David Stivers, the former band director at Desert View High School.
Stivers, who was Johnny Smith’s teacher for four years, choked back tears as he remembered the 18-year-old, who graduated from the high school in May.
Smith was found dead Sunday morning in his Delta Tau Delta fraternity house at Wabash College in Crawfordsville, Ind., apparently after a night of drinking. The cause of death is unknown, according to college officials.
About 150 students, teachers, administrators and Smith’s parents attended an outdoor memorial service for Smith on Tuesday night at Desert View, 4101 E. Valencia Road.
Smith had won a scholarship to the liberal arts men’s college, which has 900 students.
Seven weeks into the school year, he was found facedown in a pool of vomit, his mother, Stacy Smith, said. He was pronounced dead at the scene. She said he wanted to be a nuclear scientist.
Stivers said Smith was a band member at Desert View for four years and a member of the jazz band for two. He also played football and was on the club lacrosse team.
“He was one of the best students we had in the band,” Stivers said. “He knew his music better and before anyone else. That is who he was.”
Again, Stivers expressed his deep feelings for his student: “He was my child,” and he paused to compose himself.
“He had to be the best, better, quicker than anyone else. He was,” Stivers said. “The circumstances around what’s going on are horrible. I don’t know how to tell you how to deal with it. I don’t know how.”
Raul Hodgers, Desert View’s assistant principal for athletics, said he will talk to students about the loss of Smith, who played varsity football, before Friday night’s football game.
Smith’s parents, Stacy and Robert Smith, stood grimly near a floral arrangement in the center of the group that gathered to mourn their son Tuesday night.
Some students held each other and wept.
Investigations by the Crawfordsville Police Department, the Wabash Dean of Students Office, and Delta Tau Delta International are ongoing.
A memorial service is set for Thursday at Wabash College.
“Johnny was a tremendous young man,” said Wabash President Patrick E. White, in a statement posted on the college’s Web site. “He was part of a brotherhood of Wabash men, and we grieve for him, his family, and his brothers at this difficult time. Our deepest condolences go out to his family and his friends.”
Smith’s friends and family said he rarely drank. His close cousin Eddie Brown, 19, said that peer pressure may have contributed to Smith’s death.
Funeral arrangements are pending. Wabash has been providing counseling to members of Smith’s fraternity.

By Hank Nuwer

Journalist Hank Nuwer is the Alaska author of Hazing: Destroying Young Lives; Broken Pledges: The Deadly Rite of Hazing, High School Hazing, Wrongs of Passage and The Hazing Reader. He has written articles or columns on hazing for the Sunday Times of India, Toronto Globe & Mail, Harper's Magazine, Orlando Sentinel, The Chronicle of Higher Education and the New York Times Sunday Magazine. His current book is Hazing: Destroying Young Lives from Indiana University Press. He is married to Malgorzata Wroblewska Nuwer of Warsaw, Poland and Fairbanks, Alaska. Nuwer is a former columnist for the Greenville (Ohio)Early Bird and former managing editor of the Fairbanks Daily News-Miner in Alaska.
Nuwer was named the Ohio Society of Professional Journalists columnist of the year in 2021 for his “After Darke” column in the Early Bird. He also won third place for the column in 2022 from the Indiana chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists. He and his wife Gosia, recently of Union City, Ind., have owned 20 acres in Alaska for many years. “The move is a sort-of coming home for us,” said Nuwer. As a journalist, he’s written about the Alaskan Iditarod sled-dog race and other Alaska topics. Read his musings in his blog at Real Alaska Daily--http://realalaskadaily.com and in his weekly column "Far from Randolph" in the Winchester Star-Gazette of Randolph County, Indiana.

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