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2 Orange Coast College students found dead in on-campus residences within 24-hour period

A building under construction.
Two Orange Coast College students were found dead in separate residential units of the Harbour, a recently opened student housing complex.
(Don Leach / Times Community News)

Orange Coast College officials confirmed Wednesday that two students were found dead in separate dormitory units on the Costa Mesa campus within a 24-hour period, the apparent victims of unrelated drug overdoses.

An 18-year-old student, identified by the Orange County coroner’s office as Amonie Denise Palmer of Costa Mesa, was discovered unresponsive in her room Tuesday morning at the Harbour, a new residence opened to students this fall.

Supervising Deputy Coroner Erica Arellano confirmed Palmer’s identity Wednesday and noted the time of death as 10:46 a.m., shortly after paramedics were called to the scene. A cause of death is unknown, because an autopsy and toxicology report are still pending, but Arellano said there were no signs of trauma.

Orange Coast College President Angelica Suarez broke the news of Palmer’s death to students, faculty and staff Tuesday.

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“It is with a heavy heart that I share with you the news that a student residing at the Harbour student housing has passed away,” she wrote. “Our hearts and thoughts go out to the student’s family and friends.”

Later that evening, Suarez assured families that circumstances surrounding the incident did not pose a threat to campus security or student safety.

“Please know that, at this time, no foul play is suspected,” she wrote in a second email. “We ask that everyone respect the privacy of the family while authorities complete their investigation.”

When reached for a comment, college spokesman Juan Gutierrez said officials had learned of a second student death Wednesday, which also occurred in a residential unit inside the Harbour.

A male student — identified as 33-year-old Robert Stell — was found unresponsive in his room shortly before 11 a.m. Wednesday, according to the coroner’s office. Arellano said a coroner’s estimate places the time of Stell’s death at about 12:40 a.m. Tuesday.

Stell’s body was found about 24 hours after Palmer was discovered by a roommate. Gutierrez said that both incidents are under investigation but that officials suspect drugs may have been involved.

Gutierrez, who’s worked on the campus since 2014, said he cannot recall any previous student deaths occurring on campus but did say there hasn’t ever been on-campus housing until this school year.

The newly constructed 814-bed housing development opened its doors to students this fall, although most of Orange Coast’s courses continue to be conducted online because of the COVID-19 pandemic. Gutierrez estimated Wednesday that, because of the pandemic and students’ being let out of their leases, the Harbour was operating under 50% capacity.

Cardine writes for Times Community News.


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