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Suicide Shocks Medical School

By Joseph P. Flood and Kate L. Rakoczy, Contributing Writerss

A first-year student at Harvard Medical School (HMS) died in the bathroom of the school's Countway Library Thursday, in what is being called an apparent suicide, HMS employees and police officials confirmed.

Luz Angelica Chavez, who had recently moved with her husband from California to Boston, died of a gunshot wound to her head. Her body was discovered by a librarian shortly before 10:30 a.m. Thursday.

Aside from a small memorial to Chavez in the main lobby, activities at the library had returned to normal on Friday, but the atmosphere on campus was one of saddened disbelief.

As the HMS flag flew at half-staff, class schedules were disrupted and stunned students spoke in hushed tones of the apparent suicide, the first HMS has seen in eight years.

"This is the type of thing that makes everyone reflect about their own lives," said an HMS first-year who refused to be identified.

Boston police said an autopsy was performed Friday, but the results will not be available until today. Pending the report, Chavez's death has not yet been ruled a suicide.

The death was particularly surprising to acquaintances of Chavez, who described her as a friendly woman who was always quick with a smile.

"No students or faculty recognized any warning signs," said HMS spokesperson Don Gibbons.

Students received a letter notifying them of the death on Thursday from Dean Joseph B. Martin. That evening, they received an e-mail from HMS Student Affairs Coordinator Carla Fujimoto urging them to take advantage of counseling opportunities.

Students congregated at the Holmes Academic Society Thursday night to discuss their grief with each other and with University counselors.

"I'm still doing a lot of work... trying to get [students] out of the state of shock," said Dr. Daniel A. Goodenough, an HMS professor who said he knew Chavez well.

Students and faculty also attended a closed-door meeting Friday morning that Gibbons described as "emotional, but helpful."

University staff trained to deal with tragedies were available all weekend and will continue to counsel those struggling with Chavez's death.

"We are trying to come together as a community and have a community response," said a somber Reen Carter, an HMS resident fellow.

A date for a memorial service has not been set.

"She was a fantastic human being and a wonderful student," Goodenough said. "It's just unbelievably tragic."

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