A teenager lay dead in his campus dorm room for up to two months, a New Zealand university said Thursday, with the young man’s body only discovered after fellow residents complained of the smell.
The remains of the first year University of Canterbury student were so badly decomposed that specialist disaster investigators were brought in to identify them.
“Clearly there’s been quite a big failure here,” New Zealand Education Minister Chris Hipkins said.
“And if that means that things need to change to make sure this sort of thing doesn’t happen again in the future, then we will do that.”
The 19-year-old, who has not been publicly identified, was described by friends as a “good and confident guy”, but who would sometimes “go off the grid for a week or so”.
The undergraduate began his course in July – the start of the academic year in New Zealand – having opted to live on Canterbury University’s leafy campus in Christchurch.
Single rooms at the halls of residence where the student’s body was found cost $10 000 a year, the university’s website says, boasting they offer a “close knit community”.
‘How did we miss him?’
The halls of residence is run by Campus Living Villages (CLV) – a company that operates student accommodation with more than 45 000 beds in the US, the UK and Australia, as well as New Zealand, according to its website.
“The thing that haunts me is how did we miss him?” CLV managing director John Schroder told reporters.
“I’m very perturbed. If indeed the young man was deceased for as long as he was… then I would say that is a failing on our part and we have to adjust our processes and systems.”
Local media reported the dead man’s stepfather had raised concerns with police after being unable to contact the student via friends.
“It’s not right, it’s just not right on any level,” one outlet quoted a family member as saying.
Canterbury University vice-chancellor Cheryl de la Rey said it was an “extremely distressing time” for students and staff coming to grips with what had happened, adding an independent investigation into the death will be launched.
“Despite the comprehensive pastoral care programmes in place, for us it is inconceivable to imagine how these circumstances could have occurred,” she said in a statement.
De la Rey promised an independent investigation into the circumstances of the death. When questioned on national radio she said she had no explanation for the student’s family.
“I am deeply sorry, I and the university will do all we can to answer these questions,” De la Rey said.
Hipkins added the government would wait for the outcome of investigations launched by the police and coroner, before looking at whether regulations governing student accommodation needed to change.
The university, one of New Zealand’s oldest, has more than 17 000 students.
Undergraduates pay around NZ$6 500 a year in fees.