Coping with Tragedy: A Comprehensive Update on the JMU Student Ben Stapelfeld’s Death

jmu student death Ben Stapelfeld

The James Madison University (JMU) community has been grappling with profound grief following the tragic Student death of 19-year-old Ben Stapelfeld on November 8, 2023. As the university copes with this devastating loss, it is essential to reflect on the impact of recent tragedies, including the deaths of Serenity Hawley and others, and explore ways to prevent future incidents. This blog delves into the circumstances surrounding Ben Stapelfeld’s death, the broader implications for the JMU community, and outlines proactive measures to enhance mental health support and foster a safer, more inclusive environment.

Understanding the Tragedy:

Ben Stapelfeld, a first-year student from Fairfax, Virginia, majoring in computer science, was found dead in his Frederikson Hall dorm room. Despite ongoing investigations into the cause of his death, authorities have ruled out foul play.

Serenity Hawley, another JMU student, tragically lost her life in September 2023. Her death, ruled as an accident, adds to the recent string of losses within the university community, further deepening the collective sorrow.

Impact on the JMU Community:

The grief reverberating through the JMU community is palpable. Students, faculty, and staff are struggling to come to terms with the loss of promising young individuals. The toll on mental health is evident, with many students expressing feelings of overwhelm and stress.

Ben Stapelfeld, remembered as a kind and intelligent young man, was actively involved in extracurricular activities, reflecting the vibrant spirit that the JMU community cherishes. The university, recognizing the need for support, has expanded its mental health services to address the rising concerns about the well-being of its students.

Preventing Future Tragedies:

  1. Enhancing Mental Health Services:
    • The university must continue expanding mental health services, ensuring accessibility and promoting awareness of available resources.
    • Implement proactive outreach programs to identify and support students facing mental health challenges.
  2. Creating a Supportive and Inclusive Environment:
    • Addressing issues like racism, sexism, and homophobia is crucial for fostering a supportive atmosphere.
    • Promote diversity and inclusion initiatives to create an environment where every student feels valued and accepted.
  3. Educating Students on Mental Health:
    • Develop educational programs that focus on mental health awareness and stress management.
    • Encourage open conversations about mental health, reducing the stigma associated with seeking help.
  4. Collaborating with the Community:
    • Work closely with local authorities, including the police, to address safety concerns and ensure a secure environment.
    • Establish community partnerships aimed at creating a supportive network beyond the campus.

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What We Know About Ben Stapelfeld and Serenity Hawley:

Ben Stapelfeld, a computer science major from Fairfax, Virginia, was actively involved in campus activities. His parents described him as a “bright light in this world,” emphasizing his kindness and sense of humor.

Serenity Hawley, a junior psychology student from Blacksburg, Virginia, was known for her compassion and desire to help others. Her passing in September 2023 added to the university’s sorrow.

How the JMU Community is Coping:

The grieving process is ongoing, and the university has provided support services to assist students and staff. The JMU Counseling Center and Dean of Students Office offer individual and group counseling, crisis intervention, and various support services.

How to Help:

For those within the JMU community, providing support to grieving friends and classmates is crucial. Attending memorial services, reaching out, and donating to support services like the JMU Counseling Center are meaningful ways to contribute.


The deaths of Ben Stapelfeld and Serenity Hawley have left an indelible mark on the JMU community. As the university navigates through grief, it is imperative to focus on proactive measures for prevention, support, and creating a safe and inclusive environment. By collectively addressing mental health challenges, fostering inclusivity, and collaborating with the community, JMU can work towards ensuring the well-being of its students and preventing future tragedies.

Additional Information:

  • Ben Stapelfeld’s death is the first student death at JMU since 2020.
  • The university has held several vigils and memorial services in Stapelfeld’s honor.
  • A scholarship fund in Stapelfeld’s name has been established.
  • Resources for mental health and suicide prevention have been highlighted, emphasizing the importance of seeking help when needed.

Resources for Mental Health and Suicide Prevention:

  1. National Suicide Prevention Lifeline: 1-800-273-TALK (8255)
  2. Crisis Text Line: Text HOME to 741741
  3. The Trevor Project: 1-866-488-7386
  4. The Jed Foundation:
  5. American Foundation for Suicide Prevention:

By addressing these aspects comprehensively, the JMU community can move forward with resilience and a commitment to the well-being of its members.

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