A University of Chicago student was found dead in his dorm room over the weekend, a discovery that was made after complaints of a foul odor and one that shocked the campus community.
It wasn’t clear when Nicholas Barnes, 20, died, police said, but his body was decomposing when found Saturday at the campus’ International House and it had been eight days since he had last used his university key card to enter the residence hall.
“It was just really surprising to me to think somebody on this campus could go unnoticed for so long,” Tinley Melvin, 20, a junior from Toronto. “It’s everyone’s worst fear that they would be so anonymous."
An autopsy was performed Sunday but toxicology testing is needed before a cause of death can be determined, the Cook County medical examiner’s office said. The university said in a statement that there was no evidence of foul play.
Barnes was pronounced dead at 4:50 p.m. Saturday in his single room at the International House at 1414 E. 59th Street, according to the medical examiner’s office. His body was found face down on the floor and was decomposed, according to a police report.
U. of C. officials, who expressed sadness at the news of Barnes’ death, declined to comment on any campus policies pertaining to the welfare of students who might be missing.
“University staff are making every effort to understand the circumstances surrounding Nicholas’ death,” Karen Warren Coleman, vice president for campus life and student services, said in a statement Sunday morning.
“Our thoughts are with Nicholas’ family and friends … and all who are touched by this loss,” she added. “Nicholas was an excellent student, admired by faculty and peers alike.”
Barnes grew up in Pittsburgh, Pa. and was a third-year student majoring in Germanic studies, the university said in a release. He studied abroad in the school's Vienna program in the fall quarter of 2012. He was also involved with the school's literary publication Sliced Bread.
Students on campus said they were shocked and confused to hear that a fellow student’s body was found in his campus dorm room over the weekend.
“A lot of people are really upset about this, (but) I don’t think I’d be so quick to blame the college though I know some people do,” said Prathima Radhakrishnan, 22, a senior from New Jersey. “It’s important for people to just look out for each other.”
A resident in the dorm discovered the body after students reported a foul odor in the hallway of the dorm, according to the police report. Barnes had last used his university keycard to enter the dorm a little before 11 p.m. on Feb. 7, the report states.
Many students said they were disturbed by the possibility that no one had seen or talked to Barnes in several days.
“It's just strange,” said Neal Jochmann, 19, a freshman from Tennessee. “How the hell was he there that long? That's frightening.”
Jochmann, who lives at the International House, said he didn't hear about the incident until Sunday morning when he saw a Facebook post linking to a news story about it.
“I was amazed. I was in there all day yesterday,” Jochmann said. “It was just very strange. I don't want to be in there.”
University officials said students don't always need to use their key cards when entering or exiting the building depending on the time of day, suggesting that Barnes could have last entered the building after Feb. 7.
Other students said they first heard about Barnes’ death on Facebook on Saturday night.
Lauren Culbertson, 19, a second-year student who lives at the International House, said she was “a little scared, a little freaked out” after hearing from a friend that a resident was found dead in his dorm room.
“It definitely has taken a toll on the people that knew him,” Culbertson said.
Tribune reporters Jonathan Bullington, Rosemary Regina Sobol, Liam Ford and Cynthia Dizikes contributed.