Slippery Rock University student found dead on campus


Photo Credit: (Goble Funeral Home & Crematory)

Gage Goulding, News Editor

SLIPPERY ROCK – Authorities in Slippery Rock are investigating the death of a student at Slippery Rock University.

The Butler Eagle reported on Wednesday that both Pennsylvania State Police and Slippery Rock University Police were called to Wally Rose Field at approximately 10:35 a.m. Police say that a 911 call came in from a person who discovered the victim.

The Rocket reported Wednesday evening that David Wilmes, the associate provost for student success, sent a university-wide email Wednesday night that released the identity of the victim. Wilmes said that freshman student, 18-year-old Mason L Burns of Clarion was the student that was found dead.

According to the Butler Eagle, authorities found Burns laying at the baseball field suffering from a gunshot wound. Authorities say that a handgun was recovered at the scene.

Wally Rose Field is located on the campus of Slippery Rock University, behind the Art Metals Building.

The Rocket reported that a university spokesperson confirmed the incident and that state police have assumed control of the investigation.

University spokesperson Robb King said authorities believe the incident was a suicide, according to the Butler Eagle

“The Student Counseling Center is available from 8 a.m. to 9 p.m. today and tomorrow for any students who need assistance processing this event,” said Slipper Rock University President Dr. William Behre in a statement according to The Rocket. “The Student Health Center is open 24/7 for those who feel they need to meet with someone right away, and the State Employees Assistance Program is available 24/7 by calling 800-692-7459.”

Earlier this school year, a man was found dead in his apartment. In September, maintenance staff at the University Edge Apartment complex found the 40-year-old man dead in his apartment after noticing a large number of flies and a strong odor emitting from the building.

Friends of Burns spoke to RMU Sentry Media’s Gage Goulding Wednesday as they remembered their lost friend.

Hunter Weaver of Sippenville said that Burns was one of his best friends growing up.

“He was one of my best friends, we grew up together and throughout out high school,” said Weaver.

Weaver went on to say how hearing the news of Mason’s death was a shock to everyone.

“I mean, It’s hard, you know,” said Weaver. “Just because of who Mason was, this is a shock to everyone. He was always a happy person, he could bring light to a room. Mason himself is just an example of how people should be. He always tried to put a smile on peoples faces. He was so thoughtful, he’d do anything for you. He was always just about having a good time.”

Burns was well known in the community according to his friends. Being involved in band, choir, ensembles, musicals and even marching band in high school, Mason Burns was well known throughout the Keystone High School community.

Hannah Gatesman went to high school with Burns and they both shared many of the same interested in music and the arts.

“It is a very small town and high school so everyone knows everyone,” said Gatesman. “We were in band, marching band, choir, select ensemble, and did musicals together.”

Gatesman went on to explain just how passionate her friend was about music.

“Mason loved to sing,” said Gatesman. “He was a talented instrumentalist, and he was absolutely perfect in every role he played in the musicals. He performed at several county chorus music festivals, and if I remember correctly he also went to states for chorus. He performed in county band several times as well. He was very passionate about music and it showed in his dedication and accomplishments.”

When she learned the news of Burns’ passing, she too was devastated.

“We are all devastated,” said Gatesman. “We are confused. We are angry. We never could have seen this coming. I have spoken with several former classmates in the last 24 hours and we all seem to have the same reaction. No, Why, and I don’t understand. Our community seems to be afflicted by suicide and we don’t know why or what to do.”

But this was not the first time in recent years that the Keystone community has mourned the loss of a friend.

“A little over a year ago we lost another friend, Shetosha, to suicide as well,” explain Gatesman. “Like I said, we come from a very small town and this kind of stuff affects us all very deeply and very intensely. We’ve lost too many friends and we shouldn’t have. Shetosha should be here. Mason should be here.”

One thing that both friends agreed on was that mental health is not a disease.

“Mental health issues do not discriminate,” said Gatesman. “The happiest person you know could be struggling and we may never know. It is important to ask all of our friends how they are really doing. All we can do is be there for each other and encourage the friends we have to speak up, speak out, and seek help. There is no shame or weakness in the struggle.”

A GoFundMe page has been set up to benefit Burn’s family, but the person behind the account has never even met Mason Burns.

Xavier Graham, 19-year-old from Kittanning, is a student at Slippery Rock University, but has never met Burns. Graham said he heard the news and felt he had to do something.

“I’ve never met him or even heard of him at all, but once I got that email I felt like I should probably just do something,” said Graham.

In an interview with RMU Sentry Media, Graham said that no parent should ever have to go through this type of situation.

“It’s getting to be too much, one was too much,” said Graham. “No parent should have to go through that, let alone should they have ta pay to have their child buried or a funeral for their kid.”

Graham is working to get in touch with the Burns family, but what he did say speaks for everyone at Slippery Rock.

“Everyone at Slippery Rock is a huge family.”

Funeral services for Burns were announced on the Global Funeral Home and Crematory webpage. Burns will be laid to rest on Dec. 15 at Holy Trinity Lutheran Church in Shippenville, Pa. For complete details on the memorial service, visit the Mason L. Burns memorial page.

To donate , visit the Mason Burns GoFundMe page.

Stay with RMU Sentry Media for updates.