GREENVILLE, PITT COUNTY - Hundreds gathered on the campus of East Carolina University Thursday night, to honor the ECU student who was impaled by a fence post the day before.
The candlelight vigil for 21-year-old Jonathon Scott Bennett, of Wilson, took place at the ECU Memorial Garden.
According to investigators, Bennett died when he fell on a metal fence post early Wednesday morning, behind University Manor Apartments in Greenville.
"John always strived and persevered for greatness, passion, leadership, accountability, bravery, scholarship, love, charity and esteem," said one of Bennett's fraternity brothers at the vigil Thursday night. "All of these qualities are extremely rare to find within a normal person. Although John is gone, he will never be forgotten. He will be missed dearly by everyone."
During the candlelight vigil, family and friends celebrated Bennett's life by singing one of his favorite songs: "Wagon Wheel" by Old Crow Medicine Show.
"We will continue our unity as we remember John. But on top of that, we move forward as one and we keep our unity strong and don't let it fade," said ECU student Clinton Crawford.
Greenville Police said Bennett and four friends, who had been drinking, were gathered in the woods behind University Manor Apartments, located on East Tenth Street. As they were returning to the apartment complex at about 1 a.m. Wednesday, Bennett was grabbing onto a branch above him while walking on a fallen tree below him, according to police. But the branch Bennett was holding gave way, causing him to fall about 10 feet.
Bennett landed on top of a waist-high metal post that was sticking out of the ground, impaling him from the lower left back to the upper right chest, investigators said. Detectives believed the student likely died instantly.
Emergency officials released the 911 call made right after the accident:
Dispatcher: "Okay, is he awake?"
Victim's Roommate: "No he is not awake. He has no pulse."
Dispatcher: "He has no pulse? Is he breathing?"
Victim's Roommate: "No [inaudible]. Is he breathing? Is he breathing? No, he's not breathing. He's not breathing. I'm sorry ma'am. I am just freaking out right now."
Bennett's family visited the site where Bennett passed away. Although they were too emotional to talk, Bennett's fraternity, Tau Kappa Epsilon, released the following statement on Wednesday:
"Jonathon was a wonderful man through and through, holding the ideals of charity, esteem and love throughout his life. Words cannot describe the incredible passion Jonathan shared with his fraternity brothers. He will be greatly missed."
According to ECU officials, Bennett started taking classes in fall, 2010. He was pursuing a B.S. degree in Geographic information Science and Technology. The chair of the Geography Department, Burrell Montz, said she was shocked to hear of Bennett's death.
"You hate this to happen. You know, he was such a bubbly kind of guy and you know, friendly kind of guy," Montz said. "Oh, it's horrible. Nobody should die at that age. People fall out of trees and break their legs, [but] they shouldn't die like that."
Before attending ECU, Bennett went to Fike High School in Wilson, where he was well known.
"There's no way not to love him, or remember him if you ever met him," said Kathy Sherrod, Bennett's chorus teacher. "[He] blew my doors off because he was wonderful. He had a wonderful, beautiful voice and a bubbly personality, and just an all-around good guy."
"It's kind of like losing that family member that makes your world go 'round. It's like losing your Yin to your Yang," said Stephen Pender, a friend of Bennett. "He was funny, heavily involved in the community... The world just loved him."
Emergency responders had to use cutting tools to remove Bennett and the post from the ground, investigators said. The post was part of a debris fence that was built before the apartment complex.
According to the Pitt County Medical Examiner's Officer, Bennett died of blunt force chest injuries. His blood alcohol level will not be available until a full report gets complete, which could take months.