Three Chapman students die during summer break

Names of students who have passed away during their time at Chapman are engraved on a wall in the Fish Interfaith Center garden. Photo by Kali Hoffman

Shock and sadness hit Chapman this summer as two undergraduate students and one graduate student were confirmed dead by the Dean of Students office. The three students passed away in separate, unrelated incidents.

“It is a sad reality,” said Dean of Students Jerry Price. “All we can do is support their family and friends as best we can.” Ross Johnson, a graduate student in the War and Society masters program, died from a rare blood cancer in mid-June, according to Gregory Daddis, director of the program. In addition to pursuing his master’s degree, Johnson served as the co-chair of the Graduate Student Association and aspired to one day run for political office.

“To the very end, (Johnson) was working on a paper. And even while in treatment, he was still very engaged. It says a lot about education,” Daddis said. “He wasn’t just doing it for a degree; he loved being in class.” Johnson’s family hosted a “celebration of life” in Fullerton, California, on July 14. He was 66 years old.

On July 22, eight days after Johnson’s life was remembered by family and friends, junior business administration major Pablo Valdes-Aguirre died from injuries sustained after his bike collided with a truck in Las Flores, California, an Orange suburb located 25 miles from Chapman.

A member of Delta Sigma Phi fraternity, Valdes-Aguirre was described by friends as “an engaging, intelligent person.” His death was announced in an email sent by the Dean of Students office Aug. 1. “We were saddened by the news and our prayers go out to his family,” said Tom Turk, dean of Argyros School of Business and Economics.

Margaret Brynjolfsson, more commonly known as Megan, died two days after Valdes-Aguirre due to health complications related to endocarditis, a rare heart condition. A senior health sciences major, Brynjolfsson founded Chapman’s emergency medical education club and was described as “upbeat and energetic.” Janeen Hill, dean of Crean College of Health and Behavioral Sciences, described Brynjolfsson’s passing as “tragic.” Her death was announced in the same Aug. 1 email that notified students of Valdes-Aguirre’s death.

Since 1988, 50 students have passed away during their academic time at Chapman. The name of each student is engraved on a wall in the Fish Interfaith Center’s garden to honor their life. Commemorative gatherings for both Valdes-Aguirre and Brynjolfsson are currently being planned. Information regarding the memorial services will be announced by the Dean of Students office in the coming weeks.