Family, Wheaton College community lean on faith after student's death
A day after the tragic death of Wheaton College student Ethan Roser, friends and loved ones say they are depending on their faith in God for comfort and support.
Roser, 19, was a freshman transfer student from Cincinnati, Ohio, studying theology. He died Saturday after he was accidentally struck during a hammer throw event while volunteering at a school track and field competition.
Word of the accident spread quickly across campus, where students have been gathering to worship, pray and grieve. Hundreds of students, faculty and staff filed into Pierce Memorial Chapel on Sunday night for a special service of prayer and lament, which was closed to the media. College officials say a similar service was held the night before.
Dr. Jerry Root, a professor of evangelism who taught two of Roser's classes, said the services have allowed the campus community to mourn the loss of an attentive student and a genuine friend.
"He loved Jesus with intensity," Root said. "Not only that, but every week, he was out sharing his faith with other people. He wanted them to know they were loved and forgiven."
Roser's Christian faith and ministry guided his life, his parents said. And despite the shock they feel in the face of their son's death, they say they find comfort knowing he is with God.
"He's just a really special kid. We're having a really hard time saying goodbye and letting go," said his father, the Rev. Mark Roser. "We know God's in control, and he works everything out even though it's beyond our comprehension."
Wheaton College officials say Ethan was hit with the hammer at 4:15 p.m. and rushed to Advocate Good Samaritan Hospital in Downers Grove, where he was pronounced dead. An autopsy is expected to be performed Monday by the DuPage County coroner's office.
College officials Sunday said no additional information was available regarding the investigation.
To family, friends and the campus community, Ethan Roser was the kind of person who would go out of his way to help someone struggling. The youngest of four children, he was mature beyond his years, his parents said, and he considered his family members to be his best friends.
"He was the apple of my eye," Mark Roser said.
The son of missionaries, Ethan grew up in Zimbabwe before his family moved back to the U.S. when he was 10. Though he had a difficult time leaving behind his friends in Africa, he quickly fell in love with soccer, said his mother, Pat Roser.
He had a few setbacks after tearing his anterior cruciate ligament his junior year of high school, she said, which caused him to form a more personal relationship with God.
"That just totally changed him, and he wanted to go and tell other young people about God. That's what he was doing at Wheaton," Pat Roser said. "Honestly, he just had a way of going right to the heart of things with people and talking to them about what really matters."
In addition to being involved with the Young Life organization, Ethan was on the soccer team at Wheaton College, though he hadn't played in competition yet because he transferred to the school in January.
Teammate Tyler Robbins, a sophomore, remembered Roser's ever-present smile. He was outgoing, soft-spoken and "loved God," Robbins said.
Freshman Phoebe Morris said students are hurting but have found comfort in the fact that Wheaton College is a tight-knit, faith-based institution.
"It was a time for us to come together and really turn to God in this tough time," she said. "We're really just taking care of each other and supporting each other in this."
Roser's family says a memorial service is scheduled for 5 p.m. April 30 at Hope Church in Mason, Ohio.
• Daily Herald staff writer Steve Zalusky contributed to this report.